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Sorin Istrail

Julie Nguyen Brown Professor of Computational and Mathematical Sciences, and

Professor of Computer Science

Department of Computer Science
Brown University
115 Waterman Street Box 1910
Providence, RI 02912
(401) 863-6196

Sorin Istrail is the Julie Nguyen Brown Professor of Computational and Mathematical Sciences and Professor of Computer Science, and former Director of the Center for Computational Molecular Biology at Brown University. Before joining Brown, he was the Senior Director and then Head of Informatics Research at Celera Genomics, where his group played a central role in the construction of the Sequence of the Human Genome; they co-authored the 2001 Science paper “The Sequence of the Human Genome,” which, with over 12,000 citations to date, is one of the most cited scientific paper. His group at Celera Genomics also built a powerful suite of genome-wide algorithms that was used for the comparison of all human genome assemblies to date. In 2002 his Celera group in collaboration with the company ClearForrest won the ACM KDD Cup – the top international data mining/machine learning competition – the challenge then was the automatic annotation of a section of the Drosophila genome. In 2003 he joined the ranks of Applied Biosystems Science Fellows, one of just six Science Fellows in a company of 800 scientists. Before Celera, Professor Istrail founded and led the Computational Biology Project at Sandia National Laboratories (1992-2000). In 2000, he obtained the negative solution (computational intractability) of a 50 years old unresolved problem in statistical mechanics, the Three-Dimensional Ising Model Problem. This work was included in the Top 100 Most Important Discoveries of the U.S. Department of Energy’s first 25 years, and as the 7th top achievement of DOE in Advanced Scientific Computing. Professor Istrail's research focuses on computational molecular biology, human genetics and genome-wide associations studies, medical bioinformatics of autism, multiple sclerosis, HIV, preterm labor and viral immunology, algorithms and computational complexity, and statistical physics. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Computational Biology, and together with Pavel Pevzner and Mike Waterman, he is co-founder with of the RECOMB Conference series, and co-Editor of the MIT Press Computational Molecular Biology series and of co-Editor of the Springer-Verlag Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics series. He is Professor Honoris Causa of the “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University, Iasi, Romania.He has Erdos number 2 and postcard-Erdos number 1. He has 9 links to Euler and 11 links to Leibniz (in the PhD advisor genealogy).
Personal reflections on his journey before Brown, and his "axioms", are contained in Sorin's essay "Randomness is Beautiful: in Search of von Neumann" Conduit, Brown University Department of Computer Science Alumni Magazine, Vol. 15.1, 2006

Sorin's inVision for Brown:

"Engaging the world, one inspiring course, one innovative student, one influential research leader at a time."


Director, Center of Computational Biology, Brown University (2006-2011)

Senior Director and Head of Informatics Research, Celera Genomics (2000-2005)

Principal Senior Member of the Technical Staff, Project Leader, Computational Biology Project, Sandia National Labs (1992-2000)

Mission to Venus: building the "John von Neumann Institute for Advanced Study"

International Director, "Grigore Moisil Institute for Computer Science and Applications"

University "Al. I. Cuza" Iasi, Romania

  • Sorin was a member of the University "Al. I. Cuza", Iasi, Romania committee awarding in June 2014 the title of Doctor Honoris Causa to Professor John Conway, the John von Neumann Professor, Emeritus, at Princeton. Official pictures album of the John Conway Days at Univesity of Iasi, Romania to be posted soon.
  • Sorin was a member of the University "Al. I. Cuza", Iasi, Romania committee awarding in October 2014 the title of Doctor Honoris Causa to Professor Kenneth Arrow, Nobel Laureate and the John Kenney Professor of Operations Research, Emeritus at Stanford University. Professor's Arrow's parents were born in Romania. Official pictures album of the Kenneth Arrow Days at Univesity of Iasi, Romania can be viewed here.

Recent grants received

  • Sorin received NSF grant (PI) - Genome-Wide Algorithms for Haplotype Reconstruction and Beyond: A Combined Haplotype Assembly and Identical-by-Descent Tracts Approach
  • Sorin received NSF grant (PI) "Sweat-Box" Sessions: Boot Camp at Brown University: Training in the art of asking tough scientific questions
  • Sorin received NSF grant (Co-PI) - IGERT: Reverse Ecology: Computational Integration of Genomes, Organisms, and Environments
  • Sorin received Brown University Seed Grant Award, for autism genomics research 2014 (Co-PI, PI Eric Morrow, MD PhD)
  • Sorin received Brown University First Translational Seed Grant Award (Co-PI) 2013

Recent Essays

  • Sorin's Essay "Ode to Computational Biology: A letter in support of awarding the National Medal of Science to Professor Michael Waterman (2012)"
  • Sorin's Essay "Professor Solomon Marcus’ Axioms", in "Meetings with Marcus: 85th Birthday Celebration of Professor Solomon Marcus, Editura Academiei Romane (2011)"
  • Sorin's Essay Storytelling about Lighthouses: When Professor Dijkstra Slapped Me in the Quest for Beautiful Code , Conduit, Brown Univesirty Department of Computer Science Alumni Magazine, Vol 19.1, 2010
  • Sorin's Essay Storytelling About Lighthouses: Criticizing Professor Dijkstra Considered Harmless Conduit, Brown Univesirty Department of Computer Science Alumni Magazine, Vol 17.2, 2008
  • Sorin's Honor Roll Students

  • Daniel Seidman, Honor Thesis, now graduate student at Cornell University
  • Samuel Angelo Crisanto, Honor Thesis, now researcher at Microsoft Research, CAmbridge, MA
  • Younhun Kim. Honor Thesis, now graduate student at MIT
  • Andy Ly, Honor Theis, now Masters student at Brown
  • Derek Aguiar, his second PhD student at Brown, graduated May 2014 and is now Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton University
  • Ryan Tarpine, his first PhD student at Brown, graduated May 2012, now researcher at Google
  • Austin Huang, Postdoctoral Fellow, co-advised with professor Rami Kantor, MD, Brown Medical School and professor Joe Hogan, School of Public Health, now at Pfizer Research
  • Alper Uzun, Postodoctoral Fellow,co-advised with professor Jim Padbury, MD, Brown Medical School, now Assistant Professor at Brown Medical School
  • Fumei Lam, Postdoctoral Fellow, now she is at IDA, Princeton
  • Ning Hou, endowed and named UTRA award, the “Randy Pausch Computer UTRA” 2013 recepient, Honor Thesis and now she is a MS student in Computer Science at Brown
  • Nick Goelz, UTRA award recepient 2014
  • Doug McErlean, top Honor Thesis in the CS Department 2013, Magna Cum Laude, CRA Honorable Mention and now a Software Engineer at Google
  • Kshitij Lauria, Honor Thesis and now at D. E. Shaw Research
  • Jake Franco, Honor Thesis, now at Stony Brook Medical School
  • Tim Johnstone, Leader of Cyrene Project biology team, Honor Thesis, Biology Prize, now at Yale University
  • James Weis, Honor Thesis, now at MIT
  • James Hart, Leader of the Cyrene Project biology team, now at U.C. Berkeley
  • Kyle Schutter, Leader of the Cyrene Project biology team, Honor Thesis, Thesis Award, now business entrepreneur in Kenya
  • William Allen, TA and Cyrene Project member, Marshall Fellowship, now at Stanford University
  • Allan Stewart, endowed and named UTRA, the George I. Alden Trust UTRA Award, Honor Thesis, now at Facebook
  • David Moskowitz endowed and named UTRA Award, Cyrene Project member, now at Stanford University
  • Lian Garton, his first student at Brown; she received the SC Lamport Honor Thesis Award, now at Amazon
  • The Istrail Lab currently has openings for a postdoctoral researcher, graduate students, as well as undergraduate internships for both computer science and life science students. Interested parties should contact Sorin Istrail at 401-863-6196 or sorin@cs.brown.edu.