Brown CS News

Brown CS Alum Atul Butte Has Been Named An AAAS Fellow

Click the links that follow for more news about other AAAS Fellows in the Brown CS community and other recent accomplishments by our alums.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association. Late last year, they elected Brown CS alum Atul Butte (now Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics, Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at University of California, San Francisco) to the rank of Fellow in the Section on Medical Sciences.

“It is a real privilege for me to be elected into this incredible group of scientists and engineers!” says Atul. “My role in academia for the past 25 years has been in the intersection of computer science and medicine, from thinking about DNA and other molecules to reasoning over clinical data and beyond. But it all started with that incredible education in CS at Brown!”

The honor of being elected a Fellow of AAAS began in 1874, and it honors members whose efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications in service to society have distinguished them among their peers and colleagues. In addition to organizing membership activities, AAAS publishes the journal Science, as well as many scientific newsletters, books and reports, and spearheads programs that raise the bar of understanding for science worldwide.

During his time at Brown, Atul was a student of Thomas J. Watson, Jr. University Professor of Technology and Education and Professor of Computer Science Andy van Dam. "He was a star student," Andy tells us, "and very friendly and easygoing. I was amazed at how many things Atul was doing on the side, and yet he did very well in his courses and never seemed flustered. I expected great things from him after graduation, and it's wonderful to see how impressively he's delivered."

James A. & Julie N. Brown Professor of Computer Science Roberto Tamassia has fond memories of Atul. “As I was teaching CS 21 Data Structures and Algorithms in my first years at Brown, Atul impressed me as a fantastic TA and Head TA,” says Roberto. “His amazing programming talent greatly contributed to the advancement of the Brown CS team, for which I served as faculty coach, to the world finals of the 1991 ACM Scholastic Programming Contest.” 


A banquet at the world finals of the 1991 ACM Scholastic Programing Contest: Daniel Aliaga, Atul, David Luks, and Russell Belfer

After receiving his AB with honors in CS, Atul remained at Brown to earn his MD degree, and subsequently received his PhD through a combined program between Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I remember trying to persuade Atul to pursue a PhD in Computer Science, but he was set on going into medicine,” adds Roberto. “It is impressive that he made profound contributions at the intersection of both disciplines.”

Atul is also the Chief Data Scientist for the entire University of California Health System, the eight largest non-profit health system by revenue in the United States, with 20 health professional schools, 6 medical schools, 6 academic health centers, 10 hospitals, and over 1,000 care delivery sites. Butte has been continually funded by NIH for 20 years, is an inventor on 24 patents, and has authored over 300 publications, with research repeatedly featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Wired magazine. He was elected into the National Academy of Medicine in 2015, and in 2013, he was recognized by the Obama Administration as a White House Champion of Change in Open Science for promoting science through publicly available data. Atul is also a co-founder of three investor-backed data-driven companies: Personalis (IPO, 2019), providing medical genome sequencing services, Carmenta (acquired by Progenity, 2015), discovering diagnostics for pregnancy complications, and NuMedii, finding new uses for drugs through open molecular data. 

Atul joins other members of the Brown CS community who have received the AAAS Fellow recognition, including faculty members Andy van Dam, Roberto Tamassia, and An Wang Profesor Emeritus of Computer Science John Savage, as well as alums Ed Lazowska and Eugene Santos.

The full list of 2022 AAAS Fellows is available here.

The photo at the beginning of this article is by Elisabeth Fall. For more information about this article, click the link that follows to contact Brown CS Communications Manager Jesse C. Polhemus.