Researchers of the University of Tartu won the Young Scientist Award and the Young IT Scientist Award

At a festive ceremony held on 6 April President Kersti Kaljulaid presented Leopold Parts, Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Computer Science, and Mark Fišel, Chair of Natural Language Processing, with this year’s Young Scientist Award and Young IT Scientist Award respectively.

Leopold Parts, the winner of the Young Scientist Award, leads a research group in the UK at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, one of the world’s premier genomics research centres, and works as a Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Computer Science at the University of Tartu. He has a PhD in Molecular Biology from the University of Cambridge. His PhD thesis focused on genetic mapping of cellular traits. Before receiving his PhD, he had studied Mathematics and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Tartu.

Parts makes a valuable contribution to science by using the methodology of data science to solve biological issues. His research helps to answer such questions as how we are affected by DNA mutations, how to best interpret biological data and what genes to select as targets in cancer treatment. His academic publications have been published in world-class journals, he has won several grants in fierce competition and methods developed by him have been put to extensive use.

“My group is exceptional in one respect: we are competent in various fields. This enables us to apply the most novel lab and computer methods to understand why children are so similar to their parents in terms of their height, weight, character and the risk of grave hereditary diseases,” said Parts. “I think that there are many excellent young scientists in Estonia worthy of the award by the Cultural Foundation of the President of the Republic. It could be said that I have been fortunate to have really great colleagues and supervisors who have made it possible for me to analyse significant and exciting issues without having to worry about resources or the administrative burden,” he added.

Mark Fišel, the winner of the Young IT Scientist Award, received his PhD from the University of Tartu (Institute of Computer Science) in 2011. After that he completed his postdoctoral studies in Zurich. Currently he heads the Chair of Natural Language Processing of the Institute of Computer Science at the University of Tartu.

As an Associate Professor in Natural Language Processing Fišel focuses on neurotranslation, i.e. neural machine translation systems based on artificial neural networks. This field of research is aimed at teaching such systems to learn to translate by way of using a huge mass of translation examples. More specifically, his goal is to reduce the resource-dependence of machine translation systems. In order to do that, he develops methods that neither require linguistic resources nor depend on the amount and quality of translation examples to the extent they do now.

The practical purpose of his work is to make machine translation available to and useful for private and corporate users. “Our research results are available in an online translation system. When we come up with a good method for teaching the machine translation tool to learn or translate better, we add it to the system. Currently the online demo version can translate from Estonian to English and vice versa. Several linguists are using our tool instead of Google Translate. We are planning to add other languages: Finnish, Latvian and Russian. This spring we’ll launch cooperation with a translation agency that will start using our translation system,” said Fišel.

What exactly he would do with the money prize he couldn’t yet say, but he was positive that a part of it would be spent on a nice family holiday. “My family deserves it because they have supported me patiently during a period while I was writing articles all through the night. In that respect my family has contributed heavily to science. As a researcher I’ll continue to pursue the same direction and analyse machine translation systems further.”

The University of Tartu congratulates the two award winners and the Institute of Computer Science where they both work.


Additional information: Office of the President of the Republic, 631 6202, press [ät]