Computing Science

S. Cenk Sahinalp named Distinguished Alumni of the Year

August 29, 2012

S. Cenk Sahinalp, renowned SFU Computing Science professor and director of the Computational Biology and Bioinformatics Lab, has been named Distinguished Alumni of the Year by the University of Maryland, where Sahinalp completed his PhD in 1997.

Sahinalp began his research at the U of M in 1991, when the Human Genome Project was just getting underway in nearby Washington, DC, and bioinformatics--the study of methods for storing, retrieving and analyzing biological data--was seen as an eccentric and nonstandard area of research. When he began his work at the University of Maryland, he had no background in biology; it was his PhD supervisor, Uzi Vishkin, who encouraged him to look at data structure for biological information. Sahinalp’s thesis was on theoretical development and analysis of string algorithms. “At the time, my algorithms were thought to be elegant, but not practical,” says Sahinalp, “but now they are recognized as having high practical value.”

Before the Human Genome Project was complete, it was hard to foresee the importance of creating a data structure for this kind of information; there just wasn’t very much data to store or analyze. Sahinalp says the crucial importance of bioinformatics in the present day highlights the importance of long-term, big-picture thinking in research.

The award will be presented on October 19th, during the University of Maryland’s homecoming; Sahinalp will make a presentation and meet with grad students. Read Sahinalp’s profile on the University of Maryland site here.