A World of Mathematical Possibilities

Headshot of Abigail

Abigail Small, RWU Class of 2020

Major:  Applied Mathematics
Student

After dabbling in general math coursework, Abigail Small discovered a passion for the real-world impact of applied mathematics. She’s diving deep into sophisticated computational math research into the mysterious workings of neurostimulation treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

Instead of spending her summer going to the beach or taking a tropical vacation, Abigail Small, a junior applied mathematics and biology double major, opted to immerse herself into research with a faculty member. For the past few years, she’s been analyzing how and why treatments for Parkinson’s disease are successful in improving a patient’s condition by diving into computational mathematics.  

Guided by Professor Edward Dougherty, the project explores neurostimulation treatments for Parkinson’s disease through sophisticated computer-modeling programs. Small and a few classmates are investigating how those treatments work biologically by applying advanced mathematical principles through computer-based simulations. 

And while they may not be the ones to find a cure for the disease, Small hopes to contribute insights into how Parkinson’s treatments operate, as well as advancing medical knowledge that can be used to produce additional treatment options. Maybe one day their work could lead to a cure.

Lofty ambitions for an undergraduate researcher, for sure. But before she came to Roger Williams University, Small had no idea this side of mathematics existed and never imagined that her love for math could lead her to taking part in such important and impactful research. It was Professor Dougherty who introduced her to the burgeoning concept of applying math modeling to answer questions in other fields such as science and medicine.

“I first came to RWU majoring in economics and math,” said Small, “but then I took differential equations and some business courses and realized I wanted something with more real-world applications.”

And so, her journey into the field of applied mathematics blossomed.

On top of an extensive enrollment of mathematics courses, the applied mathematics major also requires students to take classes in the science fields. There, Small discovered that it wasn’t just math she enjoyed but also biology, how the brain functions and the impact of neurodegenerative diseases – a passion that makes working on the Parkinson’s project resonate even stronger with her goals for her career.

“Getting into this research I’ve now seen how much math is involved within the real world and I love it,” Small said. “This has opened me up to so many more career opportunities and if I hadn’t done the applied math major, I wouldn’t have had this amazing experience.”

It’s not just the research experience that’s preparing her for success. She also has had the opportunity to present her work on the Parkinson’s project at national science and math conferences. With all this under her belt before she even receives her first bachelor’s degree, she’s well-equipped for getting into graduate school where she aims to continue working in mathematical biology.