William Allen '12 Wins Churchill Scholarship

February 1, 2012

The Dean of the College is pleased to announce that William Allen ’12, an Applied Math and Biology concentrator, has been awarded the prestigious Churchill Scholarship to study at University of Cambridge, UK. One of only fourteen students selected nationwide, Allen will complete a one-year MPhil in Computational Biology prior to continuing his doctoral studies. 

The Churchill Scholarship is awarded to students whose outstanding personal qualities and exceptional academic talents demonstrate their ability to make contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the sciences, engineering, or mathematics. The Scholarship covers all University and College fees and provides for living expenses as well as a small travel grant. For nearly half a century, recipients of the Scholarship have become leaders in a wide range of fields, from finance to pharmaceuticals, working in university laboratories as well as industry.

Will came to Brown University from Berkeley, California. Originally interested in the study of philosophy and its logical abstractions, Allen shifted his focus towards the study of molecular genetics after reading the work of geneticist Sydney Brenner. Brenner contended that we could understand biological systems in terms of information flows. Since that time, Allen has dedicated himself to the study of how “the repetitive application of simple, logical rules to information produces the enormous diversity of growth and form we observe in nature.”

Using a combination of sophisticated computation and biological experimentation, Will Allen has engaged in undergraduate research projects both on and off campus, work that his professors describe as unusually innovative, complex and ambitious. Allen’s research, undertaken with Brown’s Professor Gilad Barnea as well as researchers from UCSF, centers around the creation of a complete epigenetic map for every differentiation stage of the development of the olfactory neuron in mice. This thesis research will enable scientists to better understand how mice smell. More significantly, it will provide insight into why certain genes express themselves where they do. This knowledge can, in turn, help scientists understand how parasites choose sites for their expression that allow them to remain invisible to a host’s immune response. For populations suffering from parasite-borne diseases such as malaria, this research can potentially be very meaningful.

Will Allen is the coauthor on one article published in Cell and two articles currently under review.

At Cambridge, Allen will study computational biology with Professor Zoubin Ghahramani, whose research concerns machine learning, as well as with Professor Sarah Teichman at the MRC-Laboratory for Molecular Biology on computational genomics, the building of computational models of T helper cell differentiation .