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Chiaromonte named first Huck Chair in Statistics for the Life Sciences

17 September 2019
Francesca Chiaromonte smiles

Francesca Chiaromonte, professor of statistics at Penn State, was recently named Lloyd and Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair in Statistics by the University’s Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

“Francesca’s expertise has advanced our genomics research capabilities in outstanding and exciting new ways, and we’re honored to name her as the first Huck Chair in Statistics for the Life Sciences,” said Andrew Read, Evan Pugh Professor of Biology and Entomology, Eberly Professor of Biotechnology, and director of the Huck Institutes.

“The interface between statistics and the life sciences is critical,” Read added. “Many, perhaps all biological data, are inherently variable and noisy, and novel statistical approaches are increasingly necessary to tease signals from noise as we try to describe the world and test hypotheses.”

Since 2010, Chiaromonte has served the interdisciplinary Huck community as the director of the Huck’s Genome Sciences Institute, developing statistical methods for the analysis of large, high-dimensional and complex data that characterize the “Omics” sciences. Throughout her academic career, she has combined research in the domain of statistics with work on biological and biomedical applications as well as other scientific fields — including meteorology and economics.

“Statistics and the life sciences have always had a critical interplay, but in the last decades this interplay has grown enormously. And that’s because the data has grown — in size and in complexity,” said Chiaromonte. “‘Omics,’ as we now know it, was shaped by innovative statistical methods; conversely, a lot of modern statistics was shaped by ‘Omics’ problems. As a scientist and as an educator I am passionate about this interplay; the Huck Institutes has helped me and many others thrive on it.”

Chiaromonte’s main methodological foci include dimension reduction, feature selection and feature screening algorithms; computational assessment of significance and stability; latent structure and Markov modeling; and functional data analysis.

Chiaromonte joined Penn State’s Department of Statistics as an assistant professor in 1998 and was a founding member of the Center for Comparative Genomics and Bioinformatics — precursor to the Huck’s Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics.

In the early 2000s, Chiaromonte contributed to the analyses of several genome consortia working on sequence alignment methodology, estimation of the share of the human genome under purifying selection, and the genome-wide computational prediction of functional elements.

The Huck’s Center for Medical Genomics, which Chiaromonte joined in 2009, offered opportunities to pursue rich research collaborations with Kateryna Makova and others. Chiaromonte used her statistical expertise to integrate and mine massive “Omics” data sets — investigating various aspects of genome dynamics, evolution and function, and characterizing complex human diseases.

In 2016, Chiaromonte was named a Fellow of the American Statistical Association “for outstanding collaborative work in high-throughput biology, contributions to methodology in statistics and bioinformatics, commitment to interdisciplinary research, and leadership in developing training programs at the interface of statistics, computation and the life sciences.”

Additionally, she actively maintains multiple international collaborations, including work with the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy, where she took on the role of scientific coordinator for EMbeDS, a Department of Excellence for Economics and Management in the era of Data Science).

Chiaromonte received a bachelor's degree in statistic and economic sciences from the University of Rome La Sapienza in Italy and a doctorate in statistics from the University of Minnesota.