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Gunnar Klau

Prof. dr. ing. Gunnar Klau

Life Sciences group, Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI), Amsterdam
Group size: 20

1. What is the leading research theme in your group?
"Our group operates from a background in mathematics and computer science. We do not focus on a specific biological problem, but we develop algorithms to be used in the analysis of biological data and modelling of biological processes. In our approach it is all about abstraction. We start by reducing a problem to its most basic mathematical description using concepts like graphs, matrices or polytopes. In discussions with biologists we discover which parts of biological reality are essential. This process leads to a mathematically sound, but at the same time biologically relevant formulation, which forms the basis for our further work." 

2. With what type of groups or organisations do you collaborate most and why?
"We collaborate for example with the Netherlands Cancer Institute and academic medical centres, because that is where the problems are that fuel our research. But we also collaborate with like-minded international groups and with more hardcore mathematicians here at the CWI."

3. From your research perspective, what are the main challenges in bioinformatics right now?
"The main challenge lies in better understanding the data. At the moment, we only see a very blurry picture. We need more sophisticated algorithms, clever statistical methods and intelligent ways to combine these approaches to get a much sharper picture.”

4. What is the most important task of a group leader?
"We don't have a lab with expensive equipment, all we need here is a board, paper, computing power and our brains. In our line of work it really is all about the people and it is the group leader's responsibility to bring the right people together, define the general research lines and create a lively group."

5. How would you describe the atmosphere in your group?
"We are a research institute, not a university and that means we have a lot of freedom to address basic questions. And the people here are enjoying that freedom and are interacting a lot to discuss ideas and problems. One day a week I work at the Vrije Universiteit [where Klau holds an Extraordinary Professorship, ed.], which is, in comparison, a beehive. That is also nice, but here you really have the space to concentrate, to sit down and focus on a problem. CWI is an island of tranquillity."

Text by Esther Thole.