December 31, 2012

News Digest: Honor: Daniela Witten

Headshot of Daniela WittenPublic health statistician one of Forbes’ rising stars
What are the odds? A University of Washington statistician has made Forbes’ list of top young researchers transforming science and health – for the second year in a row.

Daniela Witten, assistant professor of biostatistics at the UW School of Public Health, was named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list for 2012 in the field of science and healthcare. She was named to the 2011 list for science and innovation.

Forbes calls Witten and the other standouts – 30 people each in 15 categories from art and style to sports and technology – “tomorrow’s brightest stars.” All are under 30 years of age and include names such as singer Adele, 24, Miami Heat forward LeBron James, 28, and Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, 28.

Witten, 28, was recognized for her work developing statistical tools that can analyze large sets of data such as the human genome, work that could lead to better treatment and prevention of disease.

“Witten became a professor at 26, and is now developing machine learning programs that convert vast amounts of data into useful knowledge,” the magazine said in its online report. The “30 Under 30” list will also appear in the Jan. 21 Forbes magazine.

The potential varied uses of Witten’s research include personalizing cancer therapy, understanding genomes, recommending products to shoppers and predicting election results.

“One of the things that’s really cool about machine learning is that there is an incredibly broad set of tools that can be applied in a wide set of areas,” Witten said. The techniques used in health sciences aren’t much different from those in other fields, she said, such as getting computers to understand human speech or tools that Google uses to recommend search results.

“The question is how can we teach a computer to do something useful with this data?” Witten said.