Applied Mathematics

The Department of Applied Mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences offers courses and degree programs for undergraduate and graduate students. Course offerings at the undergraduate level focus on providing students with the mathematical tools and problem-solving strategies that are useful in science and engineering. The undergraduate bachelor of science degree is offered through the College of Engineering and Applied Science. 

The department offers a range of courses and research opportunities in many areas, including computational mathematics, mathematical biology, nonlinear phenomena, physical applied mathematics, and probablity and statistics. Each of these areas is described below. 

Computational Mathematics

The study of computational mathematics has grown rapidly in recent years and has allowed scientists and engineers to answer questions and to develop insights not possible just a decade or two ago. Modern computational methods require in-depth knowledge of a variety of mathematical subjects including linear algebra, analysis, ordinary and partial differential equations, asymptotic analysis, elements of harmonic analysis, and nonlinear equations. Since computers are invaluable tools for an applied mathematician, students are expected to attain a high level of computer literacy and to gain a substantial knowledge of operating systems and hardware. Computational mathematics courses include the study of computational linear algebra, optimization, numerical solution of ordinary and partial differential equations, solution of nonlinear equations, and advanced seminars in wavelet and multiresolution analysis and in multigrid methods, radial basis functions, and algorithm design and development, more generally.

Mathematical Biosciences

Advances in our ability to quantitatively study biological phenomena have provided a number of exciting opportunities for applied mathematicians. The careful modeling, analysis, and simulation of these systems using the standard and state-of-the-art tools of applied mathematics has led to novel and non-intuitive insights into biology. Furthermore, deeper understanding of the inherently complex and multiscale nature of biological systems, in many cases, requires the development of new mathematical tools, techniques, and methodologies (a challenge to which applied mathematics is particularly well suited). For students interested in pursuing research in mathematical biology, good preparatory classes would include differential equations, advanced calculus, numerical analysis, and probability and statistics, as well as supplemental courses in the appropriate biological, biomedical, or bioengineering fields. Research areas at CU encompass immunology, virology, bacteriology, population genetics, and cardiac nonlinear dynamics. Specifically, current topics of interest include model selection and control of in vivo HIV pathogenesis dynamics, modeling of intracellular calcium dynamics, the analysis of heart rhythm instabilities, the role of aggregation and fragmentation in bacteremia and bacterial pneumonia, inverse problems arising in the use of population genetics and bioinformatics to identify geographic features, and the analysis of patterns in biological sequences such as DNA and RNA.

Dynamical Systems and Nonlinear Phenomena

In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in the study of nonlinear waves and dynamical systems with analytical results, often motivated by the use of computers. The faculty in the Department of Applied Mathematics are actively and intensively involved in this growing field. Research areas include qualitative analysis and computational dynamics, conservative and dissipative systems, bifurcation theory, the onset and development of chaos, wavelets and multiresolution analysis, integrable systems, solitons, cellular automata, analytic dynamics, pattern formation and symmetry, synchronization, dynamics on networks, fluid dynamics, transport and mixing, and the study of nonlinear phenomena arising from the interactions of many interconnected dynamical units. Department courses in this field include dynamical systems, nonlinear wave motion, and many advanced seminars. Suitable background courses are analysis, computation, and methods in applied mathematics. Valuable supplemental courses include mechanics and fluid dynamics.

Physical Applied Mathematics

Physical applied mathematics is a term that generally refers to the study of mathematical problems with direct physical application. This area of research is intrinsically interdisciplinary. In addition to mathematical analysis, it requires an in-depth understanding of the underlying applications area, and usually requires knowledge and experience in numerical computation. The department has approximately 40 affiliated faculty who can direct thesis research in areas such as atmospheric and fluid dynamics, theoretical physics, plasma physics, genetic structure, parallel computation, etc. The department’s course requirements are designed to provide students with a foundation for their study (analysis and computation). The department also requires supplemental courses in one of the sciences or engineering fields necessary for thesis research in physical applied mathematics.

Statistics and Applied Probability

Almost all natural phenomena in the technological, biological, physical, and social sciences have random components with complex levels of interactions, part stochastic, part deterministic. Applied probability is the application of probabilistic and analytic methods to model, understand, and predict the behavior of real-life problems that involve random elements. Statistics is the science of using data that typically arise from the randomness inherent in nature to gain new knowledge. Areas of current interest by applied math and their affiliated faculty include optimization of stochastic networks; the study of stochastic processes, and stochastic differential equations in hydrology and telecommunications; probabilistic models, nonparametric regression methods, shrinkage estimation, gene expression microarray data analysis, false discovery rate control, classification methods, and statistical tests based on these models, in genetics and RNA sequencing; and extreme value theory in estimation of maximal wind speeds. Appropriate course work includes analysis, stochastic processes, simulation techniques, mathematical statistics, as well as background courses in one of the sciences or engineering fields in which one intends to do research. 

For details on the range of courses and research opportunities available through the Department of Applied Mathematics, visit

Course code for this program is APPM. 

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Undergraduate Study in Applied Mathematics

A bachelor of science degree in applied mathematics is offered by the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

The undergraduate curriculum in applied mathematics trains students in the applications of mathematics in engineering and science. The use of computational methods and implementation of algorithms on computers is central. Technical electives may be selected from mathematics, engineering, physics, chemistry, computer science, biology, astrophysics, geology, economics, finance, and accounting.

In general, nontechnical electives should be broadening and have multicultural value. Students interested in research also are encouraged to take a foreign language as early as possible. French, German, or Russian are recommended.

Interested students should contact the applied mathematics office in the College of Arts and Sciences for information on specific major and degree requirements.

Minor Program

A minor is offered in applied mathematics. Declaration of a minor is open to any student enrolled at CU-Boulder, regardless of college or school. For more information, see

A minor in applied mathematics indicates that a student has received in-depth training in mathematical techniques and computational methods well beyond the training usually received by science and engineering majors. For more information on the minor in applied mathematics, see

Concurrent Bachelor's/Master's Program

Concurrent BS/MS in Applied Mathematics

The concurrent BS/MS program in applied mathematics enables well-qualified and motivated students to experience graduate-level course work earlier in their education and to obtain an MS degree in a reduced time period. Applied math majors may apply for this program during their junior year. Minimum requirements for admission include completion of at least two APPM courses numbered 3000 or higher, an overall GPA of 3.40 or higher, an APPM and MATH GPA of 3.40 or higher, and two letters of recommendation from APPM faculty. Students interested in this program are encouraged to consult with an applied mathematics faculty advisor early in their undergraduate career.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Graduate Study in Applied Mathematics

Prerequisites for graduate study in applied mathematics include three semesters of calculus and a course in differential equations and linear algebra. Other strongly recommended courses are Methods in Applied Mathematics (APPM 4350 and 4360); Intermediate Numerical Analysis (APPM or MATH 4650 and 4660); either Matrix Methods (APPM 3310) or Linear Algebra (MATH 3130); and Analysis (APPM 4440). The overall grade point average for mathematics and applied mathematics must be B or better.

Students should carefully read the Requirements for Advanced Degrees in the Graduate School section. What follows is an abbreviated summary of specific requirements for the department. A precise description of the degree requirements is available from the Applied Mathematics Supplement to the Catalog available from the applied mathematics office or at

MS in Applied Mathematics

The MS degree can serve as a steppingstone for any student considering a PhD program at CU-Boulder or elsewhere. However, the MS degree is unique and an important program in its own right. One of the principal advantages is in preparation for teaching or industry, which is the genesis of the required numerical analysis and out-of-department sequences. It is also a flexible program that supports special interest directions.

MS with Computational Science and Engineering Track

The purpose of this program is to meet the needs of students who want to learn the basic concepts and skills of computational science and engineering, and then to continue toward a PhD in a discipline outside applied mathematics. A student who completes this program successfully will obtain a master’s degree in applied mathematics, in the Computational Science and Engineering Track. The program is designed to provide interested students with a foundation in computational mathematics and, at the same time, to allow sufficient latitude for the student to become proficient in an outside discipline. Approximately half of the credits for the master’s degree will be taken from a department other than applied mathematics.

A student in the Computational Science and Engineering Track will be enrolled simultaneously in two graduate programs, one in applied mathematics and one in the department from which the student wishes to receive a PhD. An interested student may apply for admission to this track either when applying for graduate study at CU, or at any time in the student’s first two years of graduate study. First-year and second-year graduate students in any of the participating departments may apply for admission to this program.

Doctoral Degree 

The Department of Applied Mathematics offers course work and research leading to the PhD degree in applied mathematics.

A minimum of 60 credit hours is required for the degree, including 30 hours in courses numbered 5000 or above (4350/5350, 4360/5360, and 4720/5720 generally do not count toward this requirement) and 30 hours of applied math dissertation credit. A grade of B- or higher must be attained in each course. No specific courses are mandatory (apart from two semesters of seminars—APPM 8000, 8100, 8300, and 8600), but the selection ought to include some of the department’s core sequences, such as applied analysis (APPM 5440/5450) and numerical analysis (APPM 5600/5610). Other recommended sequences are methods (APPM 5470/[5430, 5460, or 5480]) and statistics (APPM 5520/[5540 or 5560]). Finally, each student must take a yearlong graduate sequence outside of applied mathematics in an area where mathematics has significant application. Approval of the sequence from the graduate committee chair is required. Preliminary exams are offered in four areas: analysis, numerics, partial differential equations, and probability/statistics. Students must take the numerics and analysis exams, and either one of the other two. 

Further information on the department and degree requirements is available from the supplement to the catalog in the applied mathematics office or at

PhD with Certificate in Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology 

Applied mathematicians interested in collaborations with bioscientists will need a breadth of knowledge in quantitative bioscience to be successful. The Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology (IQ Biology) program emphasizes training at the intersection of biochemistry, biology, computer science, engineering, applied mathematics, and physics. The PhD in applied mathematics with a certificate in IQ Biology will strengthen this training with additional foundations in numerical and mathematical analysis, probability and statistics, mathematical biology, and network analysis.

Candidates interested in this program should apply directly to IQ Biology (, and select applied mathematics as one of their graduate programs of interest. In addition to satisfying the requirements for the PhD in applied mathematics, students in this program must take 12 credit hours in three IQ Biology core courses: Quantitative Biology Foundations, Statistics and Computations for Genomes and Meta-Genomes, and Forces in Biology, which can serve as the out-of-department sequence for the PhD; as well as three 10-week rotations in labs associated with the IQ Biology program. For additional information, see

Dual Degree Programs

Combined MS and MA Program with MCD Biology

This three-year interdisciplinary program offers two master’s degrees: an MS in applied mathematics and an MA in MCD biology. The goal of the program is to produce well-trained applied mathematics students who are capable of making serious contributions leading to advancements in molecular biology. Such students will be well educated in computational sciences, statistics, probability, and molecular biology. Students are expected to meet all requirements for admission to the graduate program in the Department of Applied Mathematics and to possess a basic science background suitable for pursuit of this dual degree. Students also are expected to meet minimum requirements for admission to the graduate program in MCD Biology. Adequate undergraduate preparation consists of successful completion of basic courses on cell and molecular biology. Any student deemed deficient in either area will be required to take Molecular Cell Biology I and II (MCDB 3135 and 3145) after enrollment. Students will be required to apply to both programs, with APPM the primary one. Subject to joint recommendation and approval by APPM and MCDB, incoming students will be admitted to this dual degree program as a regular part of the applied mathematics recruitment process.