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In line with University goals, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology David Rand P'12 says he will take an interdisciplinary approach to expanding research in his new role as director of the Center for Computational Molecular Biology. Rand, who replaced the center's former director, Professor of Computer Science Sorin Istrail, this August, intends to foster collaborative research projects across disciplines like applied math, computer science and biology.

The CCMB was founded in 2003 to focus on computational approaches to molecular biology and evolutionary genetics enabled by advances in genomics.

Rand said he hopes to eventually institute a postdoctoral fellow program at the center.

The University has access to "excellent human capital," he said. Availibility of tremendous amounts of public genomic data and data generated at Brown — combined with new approaches to data analysis —  will allow researchers to compete for more grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation in the future, he said.

But putting the CCMB on the map has not always been easy, Rand said. Brown's relatively small size meant the University could not allocate a competitive level of resources to the field.

Increasing the center's visibility was one of Istrail's main goals during his period as director of the CCMB. A big fan of Steve Jobs, Istrail summarized his "iVision" as "engaging the world, one inspiring course, one innovative student, one influential research leader at a time." He said encouraging critical discourse was essential to his plan for the center. To further this end, the CCMB organized symposia that offered access to "distinguished lecturers nonstop."

Under Istrail's leadership in 2009, the CCMB announced the availability of a doctoral program in computational molecular biology.

Despite its challenges, Rand said the center has used Brown's academic environment to its favor.

"Undergrads are happier here than in most other places," he said. One of the CCMB's goals is to recreate this enthusiasm at the graduate, postdoctoral and faculty research level.

In November 2009, the University announced Rhode Island's only supercomputer. Rand said the CCMB currently has a computer cluster distinct from the Center for Computation and Visualization's supercomputer, but he hopes to share resources more in the future.

Consolidation and efficiency are key priorities for Rand. He said the CCMB would like to reduce redundancies across courses.

In addition to his leadership position at the CCMB, Rand will continue teaching undergraduates and is working to integrate computer science, ecology and evolutionary biology and genomics under an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship NSF grant.


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