Avani Wildani

Favourite Thing: Run an experiment and being the first person in history to know the result!



Harvey Mudd College: 1999-2003, U. New Mexico: 2004-2007, UC Santa Cruz: 2007-2013


A Ph.D, and I’m registered in CPR!

Work History:

Google, IBM, and Sandia national labs

Current Job:

I’m a postdoctoral fellow in a computational neurobiophysics lab.


The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Me and my work

I program computer models of how the brain works

I study how the light that comes into our eyes turns into pictures, and ultimately ideas in our brains.  Neurons, the cells in your brain, react to a pictures of the natural world by releasing bursts of electricity that other neurons can detect.  I use the math of shapes to figure out what neurons are likely to be talking to what other neurons so we can understand what we see.

Once we know how we see, we can do a better job of building robots!  We already have some pretty cool sensors that take in light and turn it into 3-D maps, like Google Streetview and 3D scanners.  Imagine if you could make a robot that could look at something and know exactly what it was without being told.  We can also help blind people see if we know what pictures look like when they are represented by neuronal signals.


My Typical Day

I open up my laptop wherever I am and start writing code or looking at last night’s data, and at night I put the computer to work running my experiments while I sleep.

Depending on the day, I’ll write some code, make some graphs, answer e-mail, write about my research, or read papers.  Reading and writing are actually a very important part of what a scientist does.   Some days, I don’t even open my computer!

I love that I get to choose what I want to work on every single day, and people actually pay me for it.  I get to think of questions, write some code, and see the answers right away.  Being a computer scientist also means that I can work wherever and whenever I want, including on the beach and in my bed.

What I'd do with the money

Run a course to teach kids interested in biology how awesome and useful programming is.

Students have an idea that computer people are nerdy guys who spend all their time on reddit and writing code.  I want to run a gentle introduction to programming workshop for middle to high school students who are interested in biology how useful and fun programming can be for them.  In particular, I’ll use the money to reserve a room full of computers for people to work on, and buy a small prize for the winner of an evolutionary algorithm programming contest we’ll end the workshop with.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Short, Distractable, Musical

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What's your favourite food?

Anything with a kick! Especially Indian.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Gone to E3 as a reporter and interviewed video game designers.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A professor

Were you ever in trouble at school?


What was your favourite subject at school?


What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Reached out to students and gotten them interested in science

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Meg’s parents from “A Wrinkle in Time”

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Probably an engineer

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

More time to do research, more time for not research, and to magically make computer science something that everyone enjoys.

Tell us a joke.

What’s brown and sticky? A stick!

Other stuff

Work photos:


Me at my desk!


The beautiful Salk Institute outside my window.