• Graduate student Ben Fry with a computer screen showing

    Graduate student Ben Fry with a computer screen showing "Valence," a visual representation of the algorithm (called BLAST) that's most commonly used for genome searches.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • Fry's representations (full view and detail) of all of the genes on chromosome 14 and their descriptions.

    Fry's representations (full view and detail) of all of the genes on chromosome 14 and their descriptions.

    Full Screen

Magazine shoots 'red hot' grad student

Graduate student Ben Fry with a computer screen showing "Valence," a visual representation of the algorithm (called BLAST) that's most commonly used for genome searches.


Benjamin Fry, a graduate student in the Media Lab, was recently photographed by Men's Health magazine for a feature story on newsworthy, "red-hot" people. But it's really Fry's research that has applications to people's health.

Working at the intersection of computer science, genetics and graphic design, Fry creates computer simulations and depictions of natural phenomena. Much of his work involves crunching genetic data to make images of the human genome that are visually arresting and scientifically precise, conveying the vast scale of the microscopic genome. His work has been exhibited at venues including the Whitney Musem of American Art's 2001 Whitney Biennial and the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Men's Health, which is based in New York City, discovered Fry's work at the Cooper-Hewitt and decided to include him in its "Red Hot, Right Now" photo feature planned for the March 2004 issue. "It's people who are up and coming, doing interesting and newsworthy things," said Stephanie Tucker, the magazine's entertainment editor. "It's about the work they're doing and the style choices they make," she added, though Fry wore clothes provided by the magazine during the photo shoot in the Media Lab.

Others in the group of 10 or so people to be featured include tennis player Andy Roddick, who won the U.S. Open; actors Omar Epps and Olivier Martinez; and U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

"The crew had said it was easy enough to understand what some of the people being profiled did, but I was one of the far more perplexing ones," Fry said.

"They were curious about the work and were kind enough to stop by after the shoot to see some of it."

One of Fry's projects depicts one-quarter of chromosome 22--meaning about 12 million of the 48 million letters (A, C, G and T) that make up the chromosome's DNA. He accomplished this by using a three-pixel font to make a 200-ppi print measuring 2.5 by 3.5 meters, which was exhibited at the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria. See http://acg.media.mit.edu/people/fry/chromosomes for more information and images.

Among his other projects are computer-based simulations of fluids mixing, and a real-time animation that shows the changing structure of a web site juxtaposed with usage information.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 5, 2003.


Topics: Media Lab, Awards, honors and fellowships, Students

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