Monash data scientist wins Victorian Young Achiever Award

11 May 2016

Dr François Petitjean, from the Monash Faculty of Information Technology, is the winner of this year’s Victorian Young Achiever Award in the Research Impact category.

Monash University Information Technology School
Dr Francois Petitjean (Photo credit: Monash University)

Dr Petitjean, whose work is partly funded by the US Air Force, has developed systems which are being applied across a range of scientific disciplines, from monitoring oil spills to fighting insect-borne diseases.
“I am delighted and honoured to receive this award,” said Dr Petitjean. “In my work, I try to focus on today’s important issues in science and industry, to use them as a beacon to tell me where new theories are needed.
“I am really glad to help other fields and I am humbled to see this recognised by the panel. For me, the next big project is using latest-generation satellites to create an accurate map of Australia’s vegetation; this would serve as the basis for fire-spread models, algae outbreaks detection or pollution management,” he added.
After completing his PhD in France, where he received two prestigious awards from the French Space Agency, Dr Petitjean joined the Monash Centre for Data Science in 2013. Since then, Dr Petitjean has developed a data analysis tool called Chordalysis, which can reveal relationships and influences between the variables of a dataset. Several research teams around the world have already started using Chordalysis for problems as diverse as discovering symptoms of rare diseases, creating heat-resistant anti-inflammatories, and monitoring oil spills in the Mediterranean Sea.
“I like to think of my discipline as something like the support crew for a Formula One team,” Dr Petitjean said.
“We computer scientists don’t discover new drugs, proteins, or elementary particles. Rather, we build robust and efficient theories, tools, and technologies that will make those discoveries possible.”
Dr Petitjean believes that big data holds the key to future scientific progress.
“It’s a bit like the difference between trying to stop a tap from leaking or a fire hose, the solutions that are great for the former are simply unthinkable for the latter,” he added.
“We are now collecting more data every two years than in the whole history of humanity: we are definitely facing a fire hose.”

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