24. Miriah Meyer

Computer Scientist of University of Utah, How To Create The Future

What:

Creates programs that chart and visualize biological data for use by scientists


What does the biotech field need more of?

"Designers, visualization researchers, and human-computer-interaction experts are in short supply. We've done an awesome job over the past decade of developing technology to collect and process data, and yet the most popular tool on a biologist's desktop is Excel."

How can creativity improve your field?

"My work has been heavily influenced by several close collaborations with designers, who help me design and create tools. For example, one of them, Pathline, integrates information about how genes work together in a cell with measurements of gene activity levels over time in multiple related species. That's all charted in various ways."

What impediment do you often come across?

"In talking with biologists, I often reach dead ends as I try to learn about their work flows and scientific problems. We get stuck in some deep discussion about the nuances of their research, so I try to back up and discuss something different to help me better calibrate their needs. Keep a user talking for as long as possible; the more they talk, the more likely you are to hit on an idea that you can run with."

Click here to see head-to-head responses to these questions from Meyer, plus molecular animator Janet Iwasa, and research scientist Nina Tandon, Nos. 25 and 26 on our Most Creative People list.

Timeline

  • 1999

    Finished undergraduate degree in Astronomy at Penn State

  • 2001

    Took a computer graphics class that made her decide to study computer science at grad school

  • 2006

    Won the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Mass Media Fellowship; worked as a science writer at the Chicago Tribune

  • 2008

    Completed PhD and began postdoc work at Harvard University

  • 2009

    Deployed first biological data visualization tool, MizBee

  • 2011

    Named to MIT Technology Review's TR35

  • 2011

    Started position as assistant professor of computer science at the University of Utah

Interactive

Illustration by Alison Cowles

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