March 25, 2008

Population geneticist Scott Williamson dies at 32

Scott Williamson, assistant professor of biological statistics and computational biology at Cornell, died March 14 from a brain cancer called glioblastoma. He was 32.

A member of the Cornell faculty since 2006 and a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell from 2003 to 2006, Williamson was a rising star in the field of population genetics. He made headlines last year -- in The New York Times and making the "Top 100 Science Stories of 2007" list in Discover magazine -- for his genetic research that suggested that evolution has continued to shape the human species over the past 100,000 years. His work uncovered powerful clues that as much as 10 percent of the human genome may be linked to these recent adaptive genetic changes.

Williamson's work focused on developing statistical methods for inferring the history of demographic changes and natural selection in populations using genetic data. He also was interested in applying these methods to explore the history of population size changes, migration, subdivision and natural selection in human populations; the history of domestication in rice; and the relationship between adaptive evolution and progression to AIDS in HIV populations within infected patients.

A native of Kansas, Williamson earned a B.S. in biology as well as in mathematics (both in 1997) and Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology (2003), all at the University of Kansas.

Williamson had an intense appreciation of the natural world, crafted fine furniture, made wooden toys, grew a vegetable garden and loved bluegrass music.

He is survived by his wife, Shannon, and daughters Emma and Claire of Trumansburg, N.Y., and extended family in Kansas.

Memorial events for Williamson took place March 21 and 22 in Olathe, Kan. A college fund has been established for Williamson's daughters; donations can be made to the Williamson Memorial Education Fund c/o the First National Bank of Olathe, P.O. Box 1500, Olathe, KS 66051.

To leave a message for the family, visit http://www.penwellgabel.com/.