16 November 2015

Danish Statistician honoured by Oxford


Therese Graversen from the Department of Mathematical Sciences has received a medal from the University of Oxford for her outstanding PhD thesis about systematic treatment of DNA analyses.

The Corcoran Memorial Prize is awarded every second year for the best PhD thesis from the Department of Statistics, University of Oxford. Therese's thesis was entitled "Statistical and Computational Methodology for the Analysis of Forensic DNA Mixtures with Artefacts".

Statistics plays an important part in the analysis of DNA evidence in crime cases, and Therese has been working on developing and introducing a more systematic way of handling DNA evidence. One important advance is to enable the use of statistical model checking to systematically assess whether the models are suitable to apply in a particular case.

A main issue in DNA analysis is that the statistical models quickly become extremely complex. For instance, DNA samples may consist of DNA from several people. In this case, it is necessary to take into consideration every single way that DNA could have been mixed to give that particular sample - and there are an overwhelming number of such combinations. To address this problem, the thesis contains a computational study of how to efficiently represent the possible combinations. This has led to a representation that works extremely well; indeed it is now possible to handle DNA samples mixed from a larger number of people than previously possible.

The ground-breaking nature of Therese's work has already been noticed in the statistical and forensic communities. Parts of her research are published as a so-called read paper in the Royal Statistical Society in London. It is remarkable and quite unusual for the work of a student to appear as a read paper - such papers are highly prestigious and are only accepted if they contribute significantly to the development of novel statistical methodology.

Therese Graversen with the medalThe award ceremony took place in Oxford at Lady Margaret Hall, one of the many Oxford Colleges, where Therese gave a talk on her research to an engaged audience of distinguished statisticians. The ceremony was followed by a celebratory dinner - a formal hall - in the dining hall.

Therese has previously gained recognition for her achievements at the University of Oxford; in 2009 she was awarded the Gutiérrez Toscano Prize for the best performance in the MSc in Applied Statistics. Therese also has an MSc in Statistics from the University of Copenhagen, where she currently works as a postdoc.