Inspiring people in Science. Kimmen Sjölander. Associate Professor, Department of Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley.
I got my interest in science (and also my name) from my mother, Joan Blewett. Before she became an archivist of 20th century physics, she was a comparative literature major. I was named after Cimon, (a rather interesting character from Plutarch’s Lives). But she changed the spelling to Kimmen, giving me an authentic Swedish name — a nickname for men named Joakim! My guess is she heard this name from her parents, who would speak Swedish when they didn’t want the kids to understand what they were saying… John Blewett, my stepfather, a noted accelerator physicist, and discoverer of synchrotron radiation….
My bachelor’s degree and my Ph.D. at Santa Cruz were both in computer science. I focused on machine learning, which comes down to developing basic mathematical and algorithmic approaches to extracting information from data. I had the great luck to work with [UC Santa Cruz computer science professor] David Haussler, who was starting to apply machine learning to biological data. Based on a research project I did as a freshman, David invited me to be part of a team applying methods from speech recognition to the problem of multiple-sequence alignment of proteins. This ended up being the genesis of hidden Markov models for proteins, which had an enormous impact on computational biology. It took off from there.