Postdoctoral Fellow, Visiting Faculty
Jean-Baptiste Michel + Erez Lieberman Aiden: What we learned from 5 million books View talk on TED.com »
I'm a French and Mauritian scientist, living in New York with my Bulgarian wife who is also British. I hold joint academic appointments at Harvard, where I am FQEB Fellow, and at Google, where I am Visiting Faculty. My current focus is on using technological breakthroughs to obtain very high resolution measurements about things we didn't see before. For instance, Erez Aiden and I recently used millions of digitized books to build a sort of telescope for human culture. I argue that this makes it possible to use mathematical and computational means to discover new things about human history, society and culture. Or, Tami Lieberman and I used high-throughput genome sequencing to track the way bacteria evolve within the human body during infections. This highlights bacterial genes that we didn't know played a role in disease, and that might later become drug targets. In general, my interests are much wider than my competences, but I'm always trying to expand the latter to match the former. In research, I use quantitative methods to ask questions about things that evolve, ranging from bacteria to human society. This can involve benchwork and lots of reagents, computers and terabytes of data, or simply a pen and paper.