Class Year: 1995 Alumni Recognition Award Winner 2005
Jeremy Schmutz '95 is young to be a senior scientist at the Stanford Human Genome Center in Palo Alto, Calif., an accomplishment that was honored at Homecoming as Schmutz received the College's equivalent of a "young alum" award. With a father who was bringing computers home in the 1970s and a mother, Terry Schmutz '95, who worked at the College, it was perhaps inevitable that he would grow up at ease with technology and major in computer science at North Central.
But Schmutz was also fascinated by microbiology because it involved DNA and fondly remembers endless discussions with professors Terry Marsh and Tom Williams about all the questions raised in genetics. He soon added a major in biology, which didn't come quite as easily. "Marsh and Williams let us find our wild side," he recalled as he accepted his award. "The small classes at North Central meant we could sit around and talk about ideas."
During a North Central internship at Argonne National Laboratory, Schmutz learned about genomic science — which merges computer science, biology and engineering — and a career was born. Even without an advanced degree, Schmutz was able to join the Stanford Human Genome Center, which was running a pilot study in human genome sequencing, a topic called the "crown jewel of 20th century science."
The process eventually required 20 laboratories across the globe to produce a draft of the sequence. The Stanford Center completed the finishing process of three chromosomes to correct errors and close gaps. Schmutz managed the vast quantities of data generated by the project, which were disbursed worldwide for scientists to access. "The human genome project consumed my life for eight years," said Schmutz. "And the same questions we discussed with professors Marsh and Williams are still being worked on."
Schmutz continues his work on genomes, currently documenting certain species of frogs, fungi, ocean algea and fish as part of a Department of Energy initiative examining the carbon cycle of the world's environment.