SIAM: Montemayor interns at USF in math oncology

Layla Montemayor

Layla Montemayor

Senior mathematics major Layla Montemayor was a member of the first-ever cohort of the SIAM-Simons Undergraduate Summer Research Program in 2023.

The program, through the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, hosts five sites across the United States for a summer program of research and learning in applied mathematics and computational science.

Montemayor chose the internship at the University of South Florida at the Moffitt Cancer Center. This project stood out to her as the most applied, and realistic. “I went into this application process wanting to get more involved with mathematical modeling, and this was the perfect opportunity,” she said.

The Dallas, Texas, native interned for eight weeks in the Endearing Lab, studying mathematical oncology. The interns selected were from various majors, not just mathematics. The project originally focused on radiation therapy modeling but ended up changing course. “I ended up having a lot more interest and passion with what I wound up doing,” Montemayor said.

The project used an agent-based model to create in silico tumors or digital tumor models. Montemayor and her team were able to control the parameters of these tumors and then analyzed these images using 2D Fourier Analysis, to see if there was a new way to track spatial patterns or evolving systems and apply it specifically to tumors.

Once she became more familiar with Matlab and C++, she looked for differences within the digital tumors. During the second half of the program, using Fourier Analysis, she looked for what she could gather from the results. The last few weeks dealt mostly with numerical metrics.

For a day out of the eight weeks, Montemayor got to travel to New York to visit the Flatiron Institute. They attended many panels with New York University alumni and professors.

“It was really cool to get to explore a new place and see the different possibilities that were offered within mathematics, especially applied mathematics,” she said.

This internship also reassured her interest in data science and applied mathematics. Since her internship, Montemayor has decided to apply to graduate school, after being on the fence for some time.

“As a woman who is a first-generation [college student], it’s easy to feel as though you don’t belong in certain spaces,” Montemayor said, but through this experience her confidence in her research skills grew immensely.

With mentorship from Department of Mathematics Chair Petronela Radu, Montemayor was encouraged to apply for not only SIAM but also her first research opportunity. In addition, as co-president of the AWM student chapter and her involvement with the Lied Center Student Council, she has been able to connect and learn from other undergraduate and graduate students at UNL.

“Without AWM and the connections I have made there, I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable applying to all of the things that I have or being as involved as I am,” Montemayor said.

While Montemayor arrived at UNL to study computer science, she found after taking Math 208H her freshman year that mathematics was a better fit for her. Her class was taught by Dr. Mark Walker and she recalls that the impression he had “made me commit to switching my major.” Montemayor’s curiosity within mathematics has only grown from there.

– Lauren Vogel | CSMCE, freshman psychology major