News / 18 November 2016

Dr Seán O’Donoghue is a biodata visualisation expert who spent his early research career in the Structural and Computational Biology program at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), and at Lion Bioscience AG (EMBL’s first start-up company), both in Heidelberg, Germany.

Seán is currently Group Leader at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, and also jointly an OCE Science Leader in Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), working in the Data61 Team, University of Sydney.

Seán spent close to ten years working in Heidelberg, and credits his time at EMBL with some of the highlights of his research career. His first major research contributions were in developing methods to calculate atomic structures based on NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) data into 3D structures at EMBL Heidelberg. Seán explains that “the methods developed in this research are now used by researchers working on NMR structures, which have in turn contributed to many advances in life sciences.

Seán then moved to Lion Bioscience, which at the time was a global provider of bio- and cheminformatics software solutions that improved the discovery process in the life science industry. Their customers included Celera, where Lion’s software was used to examine the first draft assembly of the human genome.

While at Lion, Seán began asking new questions around his research directions, like, ‘how can the work I am doing have a big impact on the world? What are the rate limiting factors of discovery in the life sciences’?

Seán began to realise that the rate limiting step was not data collection nor data analysis, but human interpretation. This led Seán in a new research direction – data visualisation – to help unravel important discoveries buried in complex data.

Seán is now driven by the conviction that, if biologists can visualise their data in the right way, it will lead to new understandings that will advance the life sciences. Seán is now a recognised leader in the field of data visualisation applied to biology, and he was recently featured in a Nature News article.

Reflecting on his time at EMBL, Seán says “it was the perfect place to explore ideas, meet amazingly creative and talented people, and discuss exciting ideas in an informal way over coffee.” He credits this creative process to his successes, and explains that many collaborations which began at EMBL are still ongoing, as he continues to draw on the network he developed in those early years.

His advice to early career scientists is “ask the most audacious questions, such as, how can the work I’m doing have a big impact on the world? Then allow yourself freedom to “play” and explore these ideas in the lab”.

In addition to science, there are other sides to Seán that many people don’t know. While at EMBL he began organising parties with other colleagues that mix science elements with music and fun – he has gone on to organise the parties at the major conferences in his field. He still organises them today – the latest will be in Buenos Aires at the International Society for Computational Biology – Latin America (ISCB-LA 2016).

To explain what we mean – see the latest flyer. These parties are centered around presenting scientific animations.


You can see some of these amazing animations created by Seán here.

Read more about Seán here.

Dr Seán O’Donoghue FRSC

Office: +61 2 9325 3278
Mobile: +61 417 272 668
Skype: Seaniod

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