Samuel Kou, whose modeling of nanoscale processes within molecules has opened up important new frontiers at the intersection of statistics and chemistry, has been appointed professor of statistics in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, effective July 1, 2008.
Kou, 33, was previously John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Natural Sciences at Harvard, where he has been on the faculty since 2001.
“In just a few short years since completing his Ph.D., Professor Kou has pioneered an exceedingly important new field in the stochastic modeling of nanoscale biophysics,” says Jeremy Bloxham, FAS dean of science. “This new field is vast and presents a host of new topics that statisticians will likely explore for years to come. Professor Kou has made seminal contributions to the analysis of single biomolecules, and his work in other areas suggests he will continue to make similarly lasting contributions far into the future.”
Together with X. Sunney Xie, Harvard professor of chemistry and chemical biology, Kou has introduced models that explain random nanoscale phenomena in cells and molecules, arising from single-molecule experiments, which previously have baffled classical theories, such as  the Brownian diffusion theory that originated from the work of Albert Einstein in 1905.
His work is also transforming a long-established area of statistics known as Monte Carlo methods, a class of simulations invented by leading scientists around 1950 as an aid in performing highly complex calculations, such as in nuclear reactions. Kou’s contribution, dubbed the equi-energy sampler, has brought this old field to a new level of refinement.
Kou has done seminal work in the area of non-parametric regression and model selection, with applications across a vast array of fields. Together with his doctoral advisor, Bradley Efron of Stanford University, he has provided a theoretical framework of the pros and cons of a number of statistical models, developing new techniques that merge the strengths of several popular methods while mitigating most of their weaknesses.
Kou has also focused on stochastic modeling in finance and economics, applying to markets powerful stochastic models as he has done in nanoscale biophysics. He has developed models with his brother, Steven Kou, a professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University, to explain the behavior of growth stocks and biotechnology and internet stocks.
Kou earned his B.S. in computational mathematics at Peking University in 1997, his M.S. in statistics at Stanford in 2000, and his Ph.D. in statistics at Stanford in 2001. That year, he joined the Harvard faculty as an assistant professor, becoming associate professor in 2005.
Kou won the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award in 2005 and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics’ Richard Tweedie Award in 2007. Also in 2007, he was named a fellow of the American Statistical Association and a Medallion Lecturer of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics. Kou is currently on the editorial boards of Chance Magazine, the Annals of Applied Statistics, the Journal of Multivariate Analysis, and Statistica Sinica.