Biology as Computation
Prof Leslie Valiant
A.M. Turing Award (2010)
British computer scientist Prof Leslie Valiant theorised that machines can also “learn” by drawing upon experiences from the past. In 1984, he developed the “probably approximately correct” (PAC) model of machine learning, a learning algorithm that takes experiences from the past to derive a generalisation that is effective in correctly categorising examples not seen before. In recent years, Prof Valiant has also adapted the PAC model to provide a mathematical theory of the scope and limits of biological evolution, framing Darwinian evolution in nature as a form of PAC learning.
In artificial computation, Prof Valiant devised a scheme for the efficient routing of communications in very large parallel computing systems, and showed that the overheads involved even in a sparse network need not grow with the size of the system.
His newer research focuses on the many computational processes in neuroscience and biological evolution. He is also interested in the computational building blocks that are necessary for cognition, or artificial intelligence.
Prof Valiant is a fellow of the Royal Society (London) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA). Other honours include the Nevanlinna Prize in 1986, the Knuth Prize in 1997, and the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science Award in 2008. He received the Association for Computing Machinery's 2010 A. M. Turing Award, the highest honour in computer science.
Passion and Perseverance in Science
Prof Ada Yonath
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2009)
Prof Ada Yonath received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009 for her studies on the structure and function of the ribosome. She is the first Israeli woman to win the Nobel Prize, the first woman from the Middle East to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences, and the first woman in 45 years to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
Prof Yonath’s work has been vital to identifying how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. She pioneered the technique of cryo-crystallography, with which she was able to obtain the first structure of the ribosome. By revealing the modes of action of over twenty different antibiotics targeting the ribosome, Yonath’s research has shed light on the structural basis for antibiotic selectivity, paving the way for clinical applications such as structure-based drug design.
Prof Yonath has received many international awards and honours, including the Israel Prize in 2002, the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 2006, the Albert Einstein World Award of Science in 2008, and the L'Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science in 2008. In 2015, she was awarded honorary degrees from the Medical University of Lodz, De La Salle University in the Philippines and the Joseph Fourier University in France.