Dr Mike Bonsall

Dr Michael Bonsall is a Professor of Mathematical Biology in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford and a tutor for Biological Sciences, St. Peter’s College. Mike gave a SciBar talk in June 2014 entitled GM technologies: Friend or Foe?



What are you working on at the moment? 
Well I as a mathematical biologist I use maths to understand biological processes (together with experiments and observations). I have a diverse set of projects on the go – one current project that is exciting us is thinking how we can develop optimal control strategies for insect pests and vectors. This is cool as we get to think about ecology, dynamics and a bit of economics. 

What led you to become a scientist? 
An interest in natural history and mathematics. The former led me to college in Plymouth and then onto a degree at Imperial. At Imperial I got fascinated with ecology and quantitative approaches to understanding the natural world…all of this still fascinates me.

What one thing should scientists be doing to make the public more
engaged in science? 

Interacting – we are all capable of keeping our heads down but as part of our research programmes we are engaged in both public dialogues and policy. We like to get out and talk to people about our work – we aim to publish in open access journal to ensure our science is widely available and we are engaged with policy at the national and international level – 
all of this adds to our research as we always get asked tough questions! 

If you weren’t/couldn’t be a scientist, what would you like to do?
 I don’t really know although it would be sad – I think I would own a bookshop. 

If money was not an object (and neither were metrics) what would you
work on? 

Exactly what I am doing and working on now. Anything that interests me as a mathematical biologist.

What do you think has been the most significant scientific advancement 
in the last 10 years? 
Well there are the headliners (Higgs Boson) but depending on your scientific philosophical approach – I like Kuhn – then the small increments with a paradigm are all great advancements – in my field of community ecology – the idea that we can sensibly combine evolutionary and ecological thinking is revolutionizing the way we understand how communities of species are assembled. This is a cool advancement.

What one piece of technology could you not live without? 
A pencil but if this doesn’t count then a biro and if this doesn’t count then my smartphone.

Tell us about a book that you have read recently that you would

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives by Leonard Mlodniow – it is a book about stochasticity and randomness; the uncertainty that is weaved into the fabric of the Universe. It is an excellent read and so much so that the executive board at Manchester United should perhaps be encouraged to read it?! 

How do you relax? 
I run, I like to play music and much to the endured suffering of my family listening to good jazz music.