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University of Basel

28 February 2017

Richard Neher Wins the Open Science Prize

Prof. Richard Neher, who was just recently appointed to the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, is the joint winner of the Open Science Prize, together with Prof. Trevor Bedford of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The two scientists have been awarded the prize for their open access online tool “nextstrain.org”, which allows the real-time tracking of the evolution and spread of dangerous pathogens, such as Ebola or Zika.

The competition for the Open Science Prize has been won by a team of two scientists, Prof. Richard Neher, from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, and Prof. Trevor Bedford, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. They competed successfully with their open access website nextstrain.org against two other teams in the final round to win the award endowed with close to 230,000 Swiss Francs. The platform, developed by these two scientists, makes scientific data more accessible and usable to the public.

Big data for the benefit of society

The software “nextstrain.org” is a striking example of how big data can be used to improve global health. It analyzes the evolution of viral pathogens and allows predictions, which strain will ultimately prevail and spread. This provides public health authorities and medical personnel worldwide with a tool to better control the outbreak and course of epidemics, such as Ebola, and enables them to initiate appropriate measures. “At the time when the prize was announced, the Ebola epidemic was just past its peak. This epidemic made us aware of the usefulness of a platform for the real-time tracking of Ebola spread,” says Neher. “Winning the Open Science Prize is a rewarding recognition for our work.”

Physicist promotes open access

Richard Neher is Associate Professor of Computational Modeling of Biological Processes at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, since February, 2017. Previously, he was a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen. Neher studied physics at the Universities of Göttingen and Munich, and graduated with a doctorate in 2007, followed by postdoctoral studies at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

In his research, Neher investigates the evolution of viruses and bacteria. This has led him to attach much importance to the open access of data and research results. Neher has received various awards for his work. He was an Elite Network of Bavaria scholar and recipient of the 2009 Harvey L. Karp Discovery Award and in 2011, he was awarded a Starting Grant from the European Research Council ERC.

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