THE BLOG

Meet TED Fellow Luke Hutchison, Computational Biologist

Luke Hutchison is seeking the blueprint of an organism in its DNA: the pattern language that biology uses to compress large-scale complexity into simple sequences that are robust to mutational noise. Understanding these mechanisms will eventually enable us to grow replacement organs, control cell division in cancer, and mitigate the aging process.

Fluent in English, French, Korean, and Chinese, Luke is passionate about improving societal conditions in information-restricted countries, particularly North Korea. He's traveled there twice, most recently to present Open CourseWare and Wikipedia content for use in North Korean universities to the chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK.

Originally from New Zealand, Luke is currently completing a PhD in Computer Science and Computational Biology at MIT in collaboration with Harvard Medical School. Luke attended the inaugural class of Singularity University and is an avid Android hacker.

Some questions for Luke:

What are you currently working on?
I'm conducting my research in the C. elegans worm because it is the only complex organism for which not only the genome but also the complete cell-division tree is available. This research involves machine learning, statistics and blind pattern-matching, as well as some hard software engineering to enable the huge parameter space to be searched efficiently.

What do you do for fun?
I love Earth and her languages and cultures, so I frequently travel off the tourist track and either explore nature or try to interact closely with locals. I also enjoy working on mathematical and algorithmic grand challenges. I'm currently developing a new programming language I call Flow that solves the multicore dilemma. Flow identifies the fundamental axiomatic reason why human programmers create unsafe multithreaded code using today's mainstream programming languages, and provides an alternative programming paradigm that eliminates this problem.

Tell a surprising anecdote about yourself that few people know.

Four years ago I had the exhilarating privilege of performing a piano piece in front of a packed audience at the historic Seully Hall of the Boston Conservatory. The audience was very gracious in their applause. I should probably stop telling the anecdote there, because the reality is I decided when I turned 30 that I was never too old to learn anything, so I'd had my first lesson two weeks prior to the performance. My piano teacher required all her students, regardless of level, to perform in this recital. To perform a beginner's piece at such a prestigious venue in front of such a large audience with only two weeks' training, alongside students who played at concert pianist level, required me to eat a large slice of humble pie. But I decided to do it anyway.

Reminder: submissions for the next round of TEDGlobal Fellows will close March 11. To apply or to recommend an extraordinary candidate, please visit ted.com/fellows.

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