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Presidential Award for Young Princeton Bioinformaticist

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Even the White House is showering praise on Gen G, the rapidly growing ranks of successful young genome scientists.

Mona Singh, 34, was one of 60 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, bestowed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The computer scientist who joined Princeton University’s faculty in 1999 has been tackling bioinformatics ever since. “I think I’ll be working on these problems for a long time,” Singh says. The problems she’s trying to crack involve using statistical methods to look for common patterns in protein interactions.

It was her exploration into machine learning that started her down the road to computational biology and finally won her heart. “There are a lot of machine learning and algorithmic questions that come up in computational biology,” Singh says. “Bonnie Berger [at MIT] really exposed me to those kinds of problems.”

Before she knew it, Singh was spending more time in the field. And after a brief stint at the Whitehead Institute, she was hooked.

“I think it does take a while to effectively switch fields. But … it was a great thing to actually get trained in both,” she says. “It was wonderful for me to immerse myself in biology in Peter KiM’s lab at the Whitehead Institute.”

Singh also relishes recruiting new converts to computational molecular biology at Princeton. She has a joint appointment with Princeton’s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, where her work is supported in part by a five-year, $550,000 NSF grant.

Winning the award hasn’t changed any of Singh’s plans, though. “I’m really excited. It doesn’t change my scientific mission, but it makes me feel good.”

— Jasmin Chua

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