Only occasionally does Jonas Actor talk shop with his father, an immunologist in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
Jeffery Actor’s research is focused on tuberculosis. He works to understand how immune-related pathology develops as the disease manifests itself. By training, Jonas is a mathematician. He uses neural networks and partial differential equations to improve image segmentation in the diagnosis of liver cancer.
“When I was young my father would always talk science with us at the kitchen table. Today, our fields of interest are very different. Occasionally he will ask how my work is coming along. We respect each other but our work is highly specialized,” said Actor, who earlier this month successfully defended his master’s thesis in computational and applied mathematics (CAAM) at Rice University.
In support of his research, Actor was recently awarded a Keck Fellowship in the National Library of Medicine (NLM) Training Program in Biomedical Informatics, as well as a 2018 Alan Weiser Memorial Travel Award. Actor earned a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 2016, and now moves on to his doctoral studies at Rice.
His research focuses on image segmentation, a technique for dividing a digital image, usually a CT-scan, into multiple segments to simplify it or alter the representation to make it easier to analyze. “The liver is soft tissue. Identifying a tumor, knowing its position and its volume, the amount of blood flow, is critical to diagnosis and treatment. The standard treatment is surgery. The liver grows back,” Actor said.
His NLM fellowship advisers are Béatrice Rivière, the Noah G. Harding Chair and CAAM department chair at Rice, and David Fuentes, an assistant professor in the Department of Imaging Physics, Division of Diagnostic Imaging, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
This summer, Actor has an internship at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he’ll work developing linear algebra solvers for exascale computing. Previously, he had summer internships at the UT Health Science Center and the University of Texas Institute for Computational Engineering and Science.
Actor foresees an eventual career in academia. He is drawn equally to teaching and research, and sees them as complementary. He serves as president of the Rice student chapter of SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) and also as a youth adviser at Congregation Brith Shalom in Bellaire.
“I teach teenagers about leadership, organization and public speaking. I feel comfortable teaching. I think it’s an important thing to do,” he said.