Michael waterman
Biocomplexity Institute News

UVA Distinguished Institute Professor Michael S. Waterman Awarded Prestigious Prize in Applied Mathematics

The University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute is excited to announce that Distinguished Institute Professor Michael S. Waterman was awarded The William Benter Prize in Applied Mathematics for his outstanding contributions to the field of applied mathematics.

The prestigious award was established in 1995 by the Liu Bie Ju Centre for Mathematical Sciences at City University of Hong Kong in honor of Mr. William Benter, a businessman and investment statistician.

The $100,000 prize, given every two years, recognizes outstanding mathematical contributions that have had a direct and fundamental impact on scientific, business, finance and engineering applications.

Waterman is a pioneer in the field of computational biology and bioinformatics, and responsible for many scientific breakthroughs, including the Smith-Waterman algorithm for local alignment and the de Bruijin Graph method for sequence mapping and assembly.

“I am deeply honored to receive this prize for work that has been the focus of much of my career,” Waterman said.

“And it is rewarding to collaborate with the creative researchers at the Biocomplexity Institute to continue this research,” he added. “As biotechnology continues to give us new approaches and huge datasets, novel mathematical and computational approaches are required. It is an exciting adventure!”

At UVA, Waterman works in the Mathematical Biocomplexity division at the Biocomplexity Institute pushing the limits of genetic data analysis. In addition to his UVA appointment, Waterman is also currently an emeritus university professor at the University of Southern California, where he established the prominent computational biology program and trained a whole generation of leaders in this research area.

Wing Hung Wong, Stephen R. Pierce Family Goldman Sachs Professor in Science and Human Health, Professor of Statistics, and Professor of Biomedical Data Science at Stanford University, first met Waterman in 1998 when he was a new professor at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and quickly, became a beneficiary of Waterman’s wisdom.

Wong recalls, “As a mathematical statistician hoping to participate in the emerging area of computational biology, I was excited to be in the same town with Mike. I visited him often at USC and got to know him well. Around that time, UCLA established the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM), and Mike and I with several colleagues, organized one of the two main programs in the Institute’s first year. Due to Mike's presence, the IPAM program was very successful in attracting a cohort of outstanding young researchers from mathematics, statistics and computer science and engaging them in computational biology research. Many of these individuals are now on the faculty of leading universities.”

He added, “Mike’s work is characterized by both elegant mathematical analysis and far-reaching scientific impact. He worked tirelessly to promote a rigorous scientific standard and an inclusive culture in the field.”

Due to COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions, the award ceremony will take place in May 2022 at the Liu Bie Ju Centre of Mathematical Sciences at the City University of Hong Kong where Waterman will receive the prize and have the opportunity to deliver a lecture as part of the celebratory event.