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Ben Sherman

Photo of Ben Sherman

What made you want to stay at UC Santa Cruz?

I had unfinished business. I took a class in my junior year with professor Dimitris Achlioptas and really enjoyed the subject. The class was on designing algorithms. It was very mathy. My major was computer science, but this was sort of the most theoretical class that I took. I realized that I'm very interested in the theoretical, mathematical aspect of computer science.

So I took the class, really liked it, started working with Dimitris, started working on this problem and I wanted to continue. It's an outstanding problem in the world of chemistry that requires an algorithmic solution.

What's the problem?

You know how you go into an MRI machine and it gives you an image of the inside of your body? Well, if you want to study--if you want to get a high resolution image of a protein, like a molecule at the atomic level, the two options you have are you can freeze it into a crystal then you can look at it with an x-ray, or you can put it into an MRI machine. The problem, though, is that the MRI machine doesn't give you a picture, it gives you little blips of data. What we're trying to solve is how to figure out which blip of data corresponds to which amino acid in a sequence of a protein. I've been working on that problem for 14 or 15 months now, and probably will keep on doing that on through next year.

I think it's exciting because it's a difficult problem and it's a real problem. I like that I'm doing research and not just classwork.

What do you like about UC Santa Cruz?

I chose UCSC because first of all, it's a beautiful campus. Being from San Francisco, I knew a lot of people who had gone here and I got the sense that it was a good fit for me—they're people I just felt a kinship with.

It's easy to be laid back in Santa Cruz. But at the same time, I feel like people here are pretty applied. Part of that may be because the quarter system makes everything happen extremely fast. I think, honestly, for me it's just a really easy environment to be focused in.

What do you do outside of school?

I've been playing a lot of guitar. I play in a 70s psychedelic rock band.

 Since I've lived in Santa Cruz, I've gotten into cycling. I like riding my bike up West Cliff Drive. That's sort of my, like, individual meditation activity. I just ride my bike and it's a purge of everything in my head.

Computer Science and Engineering
Degree Program: 
PhD, Computer Science
Place of Birth: 
San Francisco, CA
Undergraduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz
Graduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz