Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Power in Numbers -- Fabulous Article and Interview with Dr. Eric Lander

Gina Kolata has written a fabulous article on Dr. Eric Lander, the head of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA, which now has 1,800 scientists involved in genetic and medical research.

The article has an accompanying video (with music in the background) in which Dr. Lander speaks on his math background and his love of working in scientific teams that break down boundaries.

The article is a must read (and do check out the video, too).

Dr. Lander's father died when he was only 11. He went on to graduate from Princeton University at age 20 with a degree in pure math and as the valedictorian. While at Princeton he also very much enjoyed writing and took John McPhee's narrative nonfiction course. John McPhee had gone to Deerfield Academy, the school that my daughter now attends, and is the author, of among other books, The Headmaster, about Frank L. Boyden of Deerfield Academy.

Lander received a Rhodes scholarship, and completed his PhD at Oxford in 2 years, also in math.

Although he was not trained in economics, after getting his PhD, he landed a faculty position at the Harvard Business School to teach managerial economics but soon became intrigued by biology. Dr. Botstein of MIT, a biologist, needed a mathematician and, through some nice networking, connected with Dr. Lander and the rest is history.

Lander enjoyed the social aspects of math (being on a math team, for example) and found pure math too isolating. I think he should have, perhaps, chosen applied mathematics or operations research (but I am a bit biased). Indeed, his first work in biology involved algorithm development.

His charisma shines through in the article and video and I wish him and his team of hundreds many scientific discoveries that can change the future of medicine.