Issue: Spring/Summer 2013
Faculty Innovation - Mathematics and Computer Science
Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science
Treating breast cancer. Predicting flu virus mutations. Avoiding sexual predators on Twitter. These are just a few areas researched by Dr. Wei Hu, professor of mathematics and computer science.
Dr. Hu’s research relies upon data mining, which uses the speed of computers to sift through large amounts of unstructured data to discover patterns. This process was used to sort through data for thousands of breast cancer patients, trying to identify gene sequences that correlated with successful chemotherapy treatment. By directing medical professionals to a small number of key genetic factors, this information could be used to better diagnose the type of cancer and choose chemotherapy drugs most likely to be effective for a specific patient. Most recently, Dr. Hu and his students have used data mining to determine a Twitter user’s gender based on his or her 140 character tweets. Such information can be crucial in detecting sexual predators as in cases where middle-aged women have posed as teenage boys.
While the outcome of Dr. Hu’s research could have lasting effects in medicine or social media, the process itself has proven to be a transformational one for Houghton students. From reading papers to learning background information, to formulating the research question, to carrying out the research, and then writing a scientific article – students are involved in each step of the process. Since 2009, 12 of his 34 papers were written with students. Through class assignments, honors projects and the Summer Research Institute, Dr. Hu creates opportunities for students to engage in significant research.
“I’m very glad that my undergrad research was in an area where it could make a difference,” says Erin Bard ’11. “If it weren’t for Dr. Hu, I never would have considered doing my research in a non-technical area; and even though it was more difficult, I’m proud to have made the extra effort, and I have him to thank for that.”