Taking Mathematics to Heart

John W. Cain, University of Richmond


John Wesley Cain, 34, started graduate school with a mathematician's aversion to biology. He took a course in his first semester at Duke University with David Schaeffer, an applied mathematician who was just beginning to study models of cardiac rhythms. In the class, Cain had to choose from a list of projects and ended up working on mathematical models of cardiac action potential. "I think that was secretly his favorite project," Cain says.

Cain himself took quickly to the work. "I thought the mathematics was cool. I thought the applications were cool." Eventually, Schaeffer became Cain's Ph.D. adviser. Now, Cain is an assistant professor at in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. There, he works in applied mathematics with an emphasis on cardiac electrophysiology.

Much of the work he does is in interdisciplinary teams. In fact, he is a co-principal investigator on a training grant in computational cardiology that focuses on teamwork. "The idea is to try to get clinicians, basic science researchers, mathematicians, computer scientists -- you name it -- to actually talk to each other," Cain says. The culmination of that grant will be the World Congress on Mathematical Modeling and Computational Simulation of Cardiovascular and Cardiopulmonary Dynamics at the College of William and Mary from 31 May to 3 June.

This summer, Cain will move to a new position as an associate professor at the University of Richmond, which, he says, is more geared toward undergraduate education. "I have a lot of projects that I have been really itching to get some of their undergraduates involved [with]," he says. He will continue his collaborations with VCU, in part for its medical center and team of cardiologists.