Perspectives Online

Symposium honors director of Bioinformatics Research Center

Dr. Bruce Weir
Colleagues and former students honored Dr. Bruce Weir for his vision and initiative.
(Photo By Becky Kirkland)
More than 120 U.S. and international scientists gathered on June 5 at N.C. State University for a day-long symposium on statistical and population genetics in honor of Dr. Bruce Weir, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Statistics and Genetics and director of the Bioinformatics Research Center at N.C. State.

The event was an occasion to honor Dr. Weir’s far-reaching and continuing contributions in research, education and public service and to celebrate the enduring friendships generated within his wide circle of associates. It was organized by Weir’s colleagues and former students and sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and the Bioinformatics Research Center.

Eleven internationally recognized genomic scientists from the United States, Scotland and New Zealand presented their recent work in gene mapping of plants and humans, evolutionary genomics, forensic DNA analysis and statistical interpretation of genomic data, all areas to which Weir has made fundamental contributions.

“I am happy and humbled,” said Weir of the symposium. “The level of science at the talks was very high, cutting-edge even. So people who came to the symposium really learned something.”

Symposium moderator was Dr. Jeffrey Thorne, associate professor of genetics and statistics in the CALS Department of Genetics. Thorne saluted Weir’s entrepreneurial spirit, which led to his establishing N.C. State’s graduate program in bioinformatics, the Summer Institute in Statistical Genetics, the C. Clark Cockerham lecture series in statistical genetics and the Bioinformatics Research Center.

“Bruce’s vision and initiative set him apart from other research scientists,” said Thorne. “These programs are remarkable achievements and are indicative of his initiative, dedication and loyalty to the N.C. State community.”

Weir earned his Ph.D. in statistics at N.C. State in 1968. He has been on the faculty of statistics since 1976 and was named William Neal Reynolds Professor of Statistics and Genetics in 1992. In 2003, he received the O. Max Gardner Award, the University of North Carolina system’s highest faculty honor.

During a lunch-hour poster session, nine of Weir’s current graduate students and post-docs presented their research on topics ranging from probability analysis of forensic DNA samples to gene mapping and evolutionary biology.

“Bruce educates with a kindness that I believe is seldom encountered,” said Eden Martin, an investigator at the Duke University Center for Human Genetics and a former graduate student of Weir’s. “His constant support and encouragement really foster students’ confidence as researchers. I have tried to learn from his example in mentoring my own students,” she said.

At the evening’s dinner party, held at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, William G. Hill, emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh, spoke of his first encounters with Weir’s labyrinthine statistical equations and the long and fruitful association the two have since enjoyed. Spencer Muse, a member of N.C. State’s statistics department and one of Weir’s former graduate students, led a toast to Weir as a pre-eminent educator of past and future generations of genomic scientists.

—Pat Westphal