Saturday, April 24, 2010

Celebrating teamwork and mathematical problem solving

Quest of 3 genome musketeers
Pals who transformed biomedical research share Albany Med prize

By CATHLEEN F. CROWLEY, Albany Times Union Staff writer

ALBANY -- Three good friends reunited Friday at Albany Medical Center. Three decades ago, they were the cheerleaders and the brains behind the effort to map the human genome.

On Friday, they picked up the Albany Medical Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, which at $500,000 is the largest cash prize in medicine in the United States.

A few minutes into their "grand rounds" lecture -- a formal medical tradition where wisdom is shared among colleagues -- a voice announced over the Albany Med loudspeaker that fire alarm testing would begin immediately.

The scientists roared with laughter.

"We are the three genome musketeers," said Dr. Francis S. Collins, "We've been setting off fire alarms for 30 years."

In a nutshell: David Botstein, a geneticist, was one of the first people to suggest the idea of mapping the human genome; Eric Steven Lander, a mathematician, created new algorithms for analyzing genes and mapping complex multiple-gene diseases; and Collins, a physician and biologist, created faster mapping techniques and eventually oversaw the world-wide Human Genome Project from a post within the National Institutes of Health.

"They collectively unlocked and then opened the door that had previously barred us from understanding disease processes at the most basic genetic level," said James J. Barba, president of Albany Med.

Eric Lander, the mathematician on the prize winning team (pictured at left above), got a running start in developing his mathematical problem skills, as well as his teamwork and leadership skills, as a leader of his math team at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. The USA Math Olympiads were just starting up when he was in high school, and he was among the first Americans to take those contests and to represent the USA at the International Math Olympiad in 1974.

This coming Tuesday and Wednesday, 300 students across the country will be taking the USA Math Olympiads. Six of the highest scoring students will follow in Eric Landers' high school footsteps and qualify to represent our country at the 2010 International Math Olympiad to be held in Kazakhstan in July.

Congratulations and best wishes for a great adventure in problem solving in the coming weeks to all the students writing the USAMO this week, especially those from New York State, listed below, and--of course, especially to the five students from Albany Area Math Circle.

We know that the problem solving skills that all our New York State mathletes have already demonstrably acquired can be put to many important uses in the future. Our state and our country and our world have many problems to solve.

Albany Area Math Circle, Niskayuna NY:
Andrew Ardito
Matthew Babbitt
David Bieber (Niskayuna High School)
Schuyler Smith
Felix Sun (Shenendahoah High School)

Columbia Grammar & Prep School New York NY
Reed LaFleche

Comsewogue High School Port Jefferson NY
David Lawrence

Corning-Painted Post West High School Painted Post NY
Vasily Kuksenkov

Garden City High School, Garden City NY
Jan Gong

Great Neck South High School, Great Neck NY
Keaton Stubis

Hackley School Tarrytown NY
Michael Celentano

High School for Math, Sci & Engineering New York NY
Mo Lam

Hunter College High School New York NY
Andre Arslan
Meena Boppana
Paul Handorff
Bohao Zhou

New Hyde Park Memorial High School Hyde Park NY
Michael Hodgson

Penfield High School Penfield NY
Allen Liu

Stuyvesant High School New York NY
Milo Beckman
Junghwa Cha
Lijin Chen
Daniel Mendelsohn
Joseph Park Joseph
Yevginey Rudoy
Andrew Ryba
Zachary Young

The Dalton School New York NY
Alexander Iriza

Vestal Senior High School Vestal NY
Colin Lu

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