Robert Bukowski

Research Associate, Bioinformatics


Bioinformatics Facility

Cornell University

Institute of Biotechnology

Ithaca, NY


Project Role:
Logistical and computational aspects of the HapMap project, development of pipeline for calling variants from WGS sequencing data, raw data management for Buckler Lab.

Why I became a scientist:
My road to science was about curiosity and satisfaction from understanding how the world works. Ever since I was a kid in elementary school, math and science have always been my favorite subjects, even though classes would always lead to more questions than answers. My serious interest in science started in high school, and an excellent chemistry teacher I had played a very important role in channeling this interest through extracurricular activities and science Olympiads. After high school I started studying chemistry at the University of Warsaw, Poland, and quickly found out that wet chemistry lab was not for me. Maybe it was the smell? I started gravitating towards theoretical aspects of chemistry, taking a lot of math and physics courses, beginning to understand and admire the elegant math behind molecules and chemical reactions. Eventually, I traded test tubes, beakers, and Bunsen burners for a warm glow of computer screen. I specialized in quantum chemistry - essentially, computational quantum physics applied to chemical systems - and obtained a PhD in this field on 1996. My work at that time was about very small systems, such as H2+ ion or the He dimer, and very high (10 or so decimal digits) accuracies. Computers this work was done on were also quite small by today’s standards. Who remembers AT 286 with co-processor?

I then moved to the University of Delaware and focused on first-principles (i.e., quantum mechanical) predictions of weak intermolecular interactions, also known as van der Waals interactions, and how they determine properties of gases, liquids, and crystals. This meant larger molecules (although not nearly as large as DNA) and lower accuracies, but more fun for me. It also meant much larger, parallel computers, including those at Army Research Lab, and a lot of FORTARN programming.

It was at that time when I started considering non-standard career tracks in science, where I could further expand my knowledge and make an impact with the analytical and computer experience acquired so far. I heard about the sequencing of the human genome and all new DNA analysis techniques producing huge amounts of data with tons of new information waiting to be dug out. I decided to jump on the bandwagon. In 2006 I joined the Bioinformatics Facility at Cornell, where I worked first on high-performance computing (HPC) infrastructure for biological research and on web programming. The truly exciting part was learning all new skills - in bioinformatics and computational biology - and using them in multiple research projects. Those done within the Panzea community have definitely been among the most challenging and rewarding.


Panzea was funded by the National Science Foundation, Plant Genome Research Project, award #1238014: “The Biology of Rare Alleles in Maize and Its Wild Relatives”; the research groups on this project were also supported by the USDA-ARS, their home institutions, and/or various other sources of funding.