Erez Lieberman-Aiden Named to TR35 List for 2009

September 8, 2009

Since 1999, the editors of Technology Review have honored the young innovators whose inventions and research they find most exciting. Today that collection is the TR35, a list of technologists and scientists, all under the age of 35. According to the editors, "Their work—spanning medicine, computing, communications, electronics, nanotechnology and more—is changing our world."


When Erez Lieberman-Aiden started his PhD in applied math in 2003, evolutionary theory couldn't handle the complex shapes of real-world populations. So he helped it adapt by combining it with specialized mathematical tools. His advances at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology have allowed evolutionary biologists to include more variables in their models.


His next challenge: "People talk about the evolution of culture and language, but I found myself wondering whether evolution is really relevant to culture," Lieberman-Aiden says. Working with Google, he and colleagues are building tools that can scan massive collections of digital texts and quantify how often a word—say,communism—appears in those from a particular era and place. This makes it easy to observe the movement of ideas, culture, and language across time and space.


Recently, Lieberman-Aiden has shifted his research toward genomics. Scientists can determine the sequence of bases in DNA, but they've had no way to know the genome's overall structure. L ieberman-Aiden has co developed a method that determines both sequence and structure—revealing, for instance, conformational changes that bring two genes close even though they're far apart along the length of a chromosome.

posted by Erika Jonietz