Is There an Astronomer in the House?

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Science  11 Feb 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6018, pp. 696-697
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6018.696

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An unusual collaboration at Harvard uses visualization software developed for use with medical scans such as MRIs to analyze astronomical data sets. It's not the only odd pairing of astronomers and biomedical researchers motivated by the need to deal with data. At the University of Cambridge, astronomers use sophisticated computer algorithms to analyze large batches of images, picking out faint, fuzzy objects. When they aren't looking for distant galaxies, nebulae, or star clusters, the astronomers lend their data-handling skills to the hunt for cancer. The key behind the project is the surprising similarity between images of tissue samples and the cosmos: Spotting a cancerous cell buried in normal tissue is like finding a single star in a crowded stellar field. Some scientists caution against using secondhand algorithms rather than ones customized for the project at hand, but those involved in these collaborations say they benefit from the opportunity to cross disciplines.

* Sarah Reed is a freelance writer and former Science intern.

  • * Sarah Reed is a freelance writer and former Science intern.