A scientific Renaissance man who works in mathematics, linguistics, biotechnology, and polymer physics, Erez Lieberman-Aiden, has won the prestigious $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. His inventions range from a new 3-D method of genome sequencing to evolutionary graph theory to the iShoe, a sensor-laden insole for the elderly. And he’s a visual artist and a creative writer.
A graduate student at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Lieberman-Aiden’s most recent invention is the Hi-C method for three-dimensional genome sequencing. Developed with his advisor Eric Lander, the founding director of the Broad Institute, and colleagues, Lieberman-Aiden hopes that Hi-C will help scientists understand how genes are turned on and off inside the cell and shed light on diseases like cancer.
Lieberman-Aiden and a Harvard mathematics professor developed evolutionary graph theory, which provides a quantitative language to describe replication of entities—such as organisms or ideas—along networks that can be applied fields ranging from cancer biology to social networks.
A speaker of English, Hebrew, and Hungarian, he and a colleague have also contributed to the understanding of how languages follow the laws of natural selection in predictable ways, leading to specific equations that describe the evolution of verbs.
He and his wife, Aviva Presser Aiden, an MIT graduate student, run a 501c3 not-for-profit organization, Bears Without Borders, dedicated to the creation and delivery of toys and childhood necessities to children worldwide. An inventor herself, Aviva was on the team that developed a dirt-powered battery designed for rural, off-grid communities, which was named one of Popular Mechanics 10 Most Brilliant Innovations of 2009.