Professor Terry Speed accepts he’s never going to see the headline “Statistician Cures Cancer.”
However, it’s a sure bet that every significant triumph we see in the long fight against the Big C has been won on the back of some serious, high-quality number crunching. And there’s a good chance the Melbourne native Speed helped.
For his superb leadership of the bioinformatics team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and his contributions to the science of bioinformatics, Speed was awarded the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation-sponsored (CSIRO) Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science at a ceremony on September 10.
At the Institute, the team that Speed leads uses computational mathematics to help researchers interpret massive amounts of experimental data.
Speed’s extraordinary leadership in the field extends well beyond the walls of the Institute. His techniques for improved DNA data analysis are distributed free of charge and used by thousands of researchers around the world. He is one of the world’s most-cited scientists—not only in mathematics, but in computer science, biology and biochemistry.
In the fight against cancer, Speed works alongside genetic and molecular biologists, other mathematicians, computer engineers and technicians, and in a 45-year career has also assisted farmers, psychiatrists and diamond miners.
And criminologists, too… famously, he was an expert witness at the Ronald Ryan case and the O.J. Simpson trial.
“Terry was one of the creators of the field of bioinformatics, and is one of the world’s leading statisticians,” Australian Museum Director and CEO Kim McKay said. “He also devotes tremendous effort to the people he works with. He has supervised more than 60 postgraduate students and mentored dozens of other researchers, many of whom have gone on to important positions within the academic and scientific community.”
This prize, recognising leadership, cements Speed’s position as one of Australia’s most-decorated scientists. He was named a Fellow of the American Statistical Association in 1989, elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2001, received an Australia Fellowship in 2009, won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2013, and was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society that same year.
The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards. The Eureka Prizes have been rewarding science since 1990 and is celebrating 25 years in 2014. Click here for more about the Eureka Prizes and click here to see a short video presentation about Speed.