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Wilson receives congratulations from Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin upon winning the Brown-Rudder Awards presented to the two top Texas A&M seniors for 2011-12. Wilson ranks as the fifth all-time recipient from the College of Science and the first since 2000.

COLLEGE STATION --

Even at the age of 5, sitting at the kitchen table with his dad while doing homework, mathematics just seemed second nature for Tanner Wilson '12.

Days away from receiving not one but two Texas A&M University degrees (a bachelors in applied mathematics and a masters in mathematics), Wilson vividly recalls the early ease with which he grasped calculations and formulas.

It was readily apparent even back then to those closest to Wilson growing up in his native Austin that his natural talent would somehow become a major part of his life. However, no one could have predicted that his love of math might also one day save a life, thanks to a unique opportunity he seized while in college to capitalize on another of his innate traits: curiosity.

"I've always been good at math," Wilson says. "I knew I liked it, but as I got closer to college, I realized I wanted to be a doctor. My career goal is to be a trauma surgeon at a major academic medical center."

An applied mathematics major with an option in biological sciences, Wilson spent the better part of his academic career toiling over research intended to improve emergency care for trauma patients. Now armed with his newly minted diplomas, a dry-erase board and his natural mathematical savvy, Wilson is well on his way to devising mathematical strategies that someday could improve the technology of blood transfusions.

Wilson's somewhat unlikely career path owes its foundations to his early exposure to research as a member of the Undergraduate Program in Biological and Mathematical Sciences (UBM), where he says he found his calling. A National Science Foundation-funded collaboration between Texas A&M's Departments of Biology, Mathematics and Statistics, UBM trains students to resolve major life-sciences-related issues using quantitative approaches that span a variety of interdisciplinary areas within the three fields.

After completing his introductory year in the program, Wilson began a required collaborative research project in fall 2009 with Dr. Alan Dabney, associate professor of statistics, embarking on a yearlong foray into proteomics. The following summer, he decided to strike out on his own to pursue a topic that appealed to a personal interest he had stumbled upon a year earlier in, of all places, a hospital emergency room.

As a summer intern in Houston's Ben Taub General Hospital's trauma unit in 2009, Wilson says he was surprised at how little scientific justification went into transfusion protocol for patients experiencing massive blood loss. In each patient's case, a longstanding field-wide debate arises: Exactly what is the correct ratio of red blood cells, plasma and platelets required to maintain the balance of whole blood? Being new to the conundrum, Wilson fittingly took a new approach, turning not to medicine but to mathematics, which he hypothesized could be useful in creating a more personalized method of blood treatment.

Once again following his instincts, he devised a detailed mathematical model that mapped out the transfusion process using simulations that took into account factors such as site of entry as well as both volume and concentration of the blood product. During the next two years, he expanded his models to include other physiological variables, including blood-clot formation and flow rates.

Summer 2012 currently finds Wilson perfecting a mathematical theory to calculate oxygenation levels of blood in places like the heart, for example, that are normally considered by surgeons to be blind spots.

"I thought this coming into college, and now I'm convinced: Medicine can only go so far without using high-level mathematics," he says. "And that's the point of this project, to show that just by using mathematical theory, we can find some things you would not otherwise be able to find."

Wilson's creative use of mathematics hasn't gone unnoticed in academic circles. Even though he's already been accepted to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and will begin this August, Wilson's work earned him enough credibility that he is in discussions with one of its lead emergency medicine physicians to possibly join a major clinical research project this summer.

As Wilson's UBM adviser, Dr. Jay Walton, professor of mathematics and aerospace engineering, noticed an ambition very early on that he says was unlike typical students. Not only did Wilson complete the Department of Mathematics FastTrack Degree Program, a five-year program in which academically talented math majors can simultaneously earn their bachelor's and master's degrees, Wilson did it all in just four years.

"Tanner is the quintessential self-starter," Walton says. "Without a doubt, Tanner's work on this mathematical modeling project is publishable science done primarily while he was an undergraduate student with minimal guidance. Such scientific maturity is not often seen in undergraduate students."

The surprise was on Wilson at spring commencement ceremonies, where he was formally recognized for his academic, research and extracurricular contributions by Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin as one of two campus-wide recipients of the prestigious Brown Foundation-Earl Rudder Memorial Outstanding Student Award. The award -- the highest accolade that can be bestowed upon a graduating senior -- honors top students who exemplify the leadership and related traits of the late General Earl Rudder, a World War II hero who served as president of Texas A&M from 1959 until his death in 1970. Beyond his extensive research experience and academic achievements previously recognized with 20 awards and scholarships, Wilson's extracurricular track record features broad participation in Student Government (including four years in the Student Senate, the final as Speaker) and the musical group Percussion Studio, as well as tutoring in the College of Science.

Wilson is quick to humbly stress that his numerous accomplishments and successes could not have happened without significant help. From his mentor, Jay Walton, to all of his scholarship donors, Wilson adamantly gives credit where he says it most certainly is due.

"I can't say enough good things about Dr. Walton," Wilson says. "Thankfully, he gave me the leeway to define this whole project by myself, and he gave me the room to pick it up and run with it.

"I've also been supported through the President's Endowed Scholarship and College of Science endowed scholarships. Charles H. Weinbaum Jr. '47 and the Brittans [Peggy L. and Charles L.] are some of my donors. Without that kind of support, it goes without saying I never would've been able to do the things I did."

Wilson is on the cusp of achieving yet another personal accomplishment -- marriage, a prospect for which it appears he's found his perfect match. His fiancée, Nell Kroeger '12, also graduated last Saturday as part of the same ceremony and also completed the mathematics department's FastTrack Degree Program a year early to earn both her bachelor's and master's degrees.

Though eager to continue with his research in the medical applications of mathematics, Wilson welcomes his upcoming Hawaiian honeymoon as a much-needed break before medical school begins. Feel free to do the math -- he certainly has.

"For my fiancée and me, together we did a combined total of 12 years of math in eight years; we're both pretty exhausted," he says. "We're just going to forget everything we've ever known about math for that week and just sit on the beach."

To learn more about the UBM, visit http://www.math.tamu.edu/ubm/.

For more information on the FastTrack Degree Program, visit http://www.math.tamu.edu/graduate/fasttrack/.

-aTm-

Contact: Chris Jarvis, (979) 845-7246 or cjarvis@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Jay R. Walton, (979) 845-7242 or jwalton@math.tamu.edu

Jarvis Chris

  • Tanner B. Wilson

    Texas A&M University math phenom Tanner B. Wilson '12 is using mathematical modeling and other lessons learned while in Aggieland to develop better processes for blood transfusions and other medical treatments.

  • Powerful Potential

    During his Texas A&M career, Wilson won more than 20 awards and scholarships, including one established by Charles L. and Peggy L. Brittan (pictured here with Wilson).

  • Family Ties

    Wilson honed his natural talent early on with the help of his family, including (from left) his sister, Taylor; his mom, Lisa; and his dad, Bill.

  • Two Become One

    Wilson with his fiancee, Nell Kroeger '12, a fellow May 2012 FastTrack Degree Program graduate.

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