University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: Biostatistics professor receives 2018 Simons Investigator Award

Biostatistics professor receives 2018 Simons Investigator Award

08/01/2018
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Daniela Witten, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington School of Public Health, has been named a 2018 Simons Investigator in Mathematical Modeling of Living Systems by the New York-based Simons Foundation.

The award provides $100,000 annually for an initial five years and can be renewed for an additional five years. They are presented to outstanding scientists like Witten, who is also a professor of statistics at the UW, for use in furthering their research. Additional funds were provided to the University and the department of biostatistics for a total award of $660,000.

The honor recognizes Witten’s work, which focuses on “the development of supervised and unsupervised learning methods for making sense of large and messy data sets arising from genomics, neuroscience and other fields.” She has developed new frameworks for performing clustering, graphical modeling and matrix decompositions in the high-dimensional setting.

“In recent years, technology development in biology has outpaced the development of statistical methods to make sense of the data resulting from this new technology,” Witten says. “My research aims to bridge this gap.”

DNA sequencing, fMRI, calcium imaging and other biomedical technologies result in a huge number of measurements. However, due to the cost of these technologies, the number of observations for which these measurements are collected is relatively small. In this “high-dimensional” setting, classical statistical techniques (which require a very large number of observations) cannot be applied. Witten’s work focuses on developing statistical methods that can disentangle signal from noise in this challenging setting.

“It is a huge honor for my work to be recognized by the Simons Foundation,” she says. “I am delighted to have an opportunity to pursue research at the interface of statistical machine learning and biology, and to become part of the diverse and vibrant community of Simons Investigators.”

Witten is one of 16 theoretical scientists named 2018 Simons Investigators in the fields of Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science and Mathematical Modeling of Living Systems. The program is designed to support scientists in the early stages of an academic career who are establishing creative new research directions, providing leadership to the field and effectively mentoring junior scientists.