Meet the Vizgen Team- Tim Wiggin

Q&A with Tim Wiggin, Vizgen Computational Biologist


What is your favorite quote?

“Ethologists are scientists who like their animals.” -William Verplanck

What do you do at Vizgen?

It’s my job to bridge the gap between experimental scientists, hardware developers, and software developers. As part of the product development team, I’m working on tools that let our users determine if their experiments ran successfully and alert them if anything went wrong during the automated data collection process. That’s important because MERFISH data collection can run for multiple days, so it isn’t practical for a person to supervise every step. As we learn more about how our MERSCOPE® Platform is being used in the field, I’ll help build software tools for integrating biological insight with the massive amounts of data generated by the MERSCOPE systems.

How did you end up here/why did you choose to join the Vizgen team?

When I was in training as a neuroscientist, I studied how cells in the central nervous system control behaviors like sleep, movement, and decision-making. I wanted to use a tool like MERFISH to understand how gene expression in those same cells regulated those behaviors. But I didn’t have the technical know-how to make it happen on my own, so I didn’t get to try the technology.

I was really excited to see that Vizgen was commercializing MERFISH, and that there was a need for scientists like me on the team. I was excited because the goal of the company is to prevent stories like mine by making this really demanding, really cool technology work for everyone. Bringing high-throughput single molecule measurements to everybody is going to be a big deal and I’ll be interested to see how our users shake up their fields.

Why did you become a scientist? What drew you to this field?

I’ve always liked biology – learning about animals as a kid turned into learning about cells, molecules, and minds as an adult. In school noticed that a lot of my biologist colleagues were uncomfortable with computers, so I tried to help them out. That desire to help out has grown to the point that it’s my whole job: using computers to make biological discovery work better.

What are your credentials/past experience, for working in your position?

Something that sometimes surprises people is that I come from primarily a benchwork background. Whole-cell patch clamp, fluorescent imaging, molecular biology, behavioral measurements, animal maintenance – I’ve spent most of my time thinking about and working on the hands-on parts of science. Because of that, it’s easy for me to put myself in the shoes of someone using or maintaining MERSCOPE. Having that user empathy makes me a better computational scientist because I know what kinds of questions people want to ask and what kinds of problems they might have. Then I can bring the unreasonable effectiveness of math to bear on making life better for experimentalists.

Can you share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a scientist/in your career?

While I was in graduate school, I had a chance to take the Neural Systems and Behavior course in Woods Hole. It was eight weeks of intense scientific work with some of the best students and professors in the world. Every two weeks, we switched to something completely different: different model system, hardware, analysis technique, experimental questions, everything. And every two weeks, we needed to deliver an interesting talk about an original discovery we had made. Keeping up with that cadence forced all of us to be fearless in the lab. One thing I like about Vizgen is that the team has that same sense of fearlessness — building a totally new system from the ground up is a huge job and there’s isn’t an instruction manual for how to do it.

Interested in working with Tim and the entire Vizgen Team? Visit our careers page to review current openings.