Mathematician Linking Statistics, Computer Images to Detect Disease By Ken Keatley Carey Priebe's mission as a mathematician is neatly summed up on the door of his Maryland Hall office, where he's placed a quote from Leopold Kronecker: "The wealth of your practical experience with sane and interesting problems will give to mathematics a new direction and a new impetus." Dr. Priebe, an assistant professor of mathematical sciences in the School of Engineering, seeks to apply mathematics and statistics in solving real problems. Nevertheless, most acquaintances, upon learning that he's a mathematician, frequently wonder how he passes his days. "They ask, 'What can that possibly be? Hasn't that all been done?'" Dr. Priebe said. "Unless it's multiplication, they can't imagine what I do." Actually, what Dr. Priebe does would likely surprise many mathematicians, too. An expert in statistics, he is researching ways that semiparametric statistical analyses can be applied to the burgeoning field of computer imaging. "These techniques have a number of applications. I'm working to help radiologists find anomalies in mammograms, but the same philosophy could help find land mines on a beach or find runways in satellite imagery," explained Dr. Priebe, who joined Hopkins in July after a nine-year career in Navy research and development as a mathematician and scientist. To aid him in this pioneering field of statistical research, Dr. Priebe has recently been awarded an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Program grant. Of 409 proposals received, only 33 were chosen this year. And Dr. Priebe was one of only four researchers to earn grants in the fields of mathematics or computer science. The three-year grant will provide him with $75,000 in funding annually, which he plans to use to support the work of graduate students and to set up in his Maryland Hall office a sophisticated computer system to test his theories and processes. Dr. Priebe, who has degrees in mathematics and computer science as well as a doctorate in computational statistics, is excited by the multidisciplinary scope of his work. "One of the main reasons I came to Hopkins is that the administration truly wants interdisciplinary, collaborative efforts," he said. "People in electrical engineering, biomedical engineering and the medical school all have interesting problems I can try to help solve. I hope I can give some value-added to them." Much of Dr. Priebe's current research focuses on his work in recognizing and analyzing the texture of mammograms, medical images used to detect breast cancer. "Texture is a statistical measure of the roughness of a surface," he explained. "By keying in on the texture under certain conditions, one may find anomalies that may mean the presence of a tumor or other defect. I'm a statistician, not an image processing engineer, so I'm looking for statistically significant departures from the normal tissue. Then I'll try to draw the attention of a radiologist to those areas of the mammogram." Dr. Priebe is also working with the Navy in developing a statistical image analysis consulting course that will allow Hopkins students to solve real-world problems. "That should be fun. The advantage for the Navy is to have some bright Hopkins students working on a problem," he added. "The students will see some current applications of applied mathematics." Certainly problem solving, in addition to basic research, is Dr. Priebe's forte. "Pure mathematics is beautiful, but it's nice to find a pay-off somewhere down the line, too," he said.
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