seal  Purdue News

July 15, 2003

Young Purdue engineers win prestigious NSF awards

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Three Purdue University engineers have won the National Science Foundation's most prestigious honor for outstanding young researchers.

The Faculty Early Career Development awards range from $300,000 to $500,000 in research funding over four or five years. NSF recently issued about 350 early career awards out of roughly 2,000 researchers who competed for the grants.

Purdue's recipients this year are Phillip S. Dunston, Y. Charlie Hu and Kendall T. Thomson.

Details about the Purdue awardees and their research follow:

Mixed Reality:

Phillip S. Dunston

Dunston, an assistant professor of civil engineering, will use the NSF grant for research aimed at developing computer-aided systems that use "mixed reality" in the design and construction of facilities. In mixed reality, design engineers could don virtual reality glasses, interacting with design models and other people in the same perceived "space." The term mixed reality implies that part of what the worker sees – such as a building under construction – is real, while many details that exist only in a computer display are integrated with a person's view of the real environment.

Mixed reality offers promise in reducing errors in building construction and remodeling design by giving precise three-dimensional locations for facility components and automatically alerting contractors to design conflicts. Construction workers installing such items as ducts for heating and air conditioning systems could "see" exactly where the ductwork should be installed. Three-dimensional virtual reality displays are easier to comprehend than two-dimensional blueprints. However, researchers must overcome challenges in making virtual environments as natural as real environments so that people can effectively communicate, manipulate objects and process information, especially in cooperative work settings.


Computational Grids:

Y. Charlie Hu

Hu, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, will use his NSF grant to develop software needed to perfect so-called "computational grids" that promise to change the way people conduct computational sciences and engineering. Computational grids enable scientific communities to remotely share resources that encompass computers, storage space, sensors, software applications and data. The full potential of grids, however, has been limited because today's grids manage resources using a centralized "client-server" model, in which one or a few centralized servers control the scheduling of jobs and other functions.

The centralized approach works well for relatively small numbers of resources and users but it cannot be "scaled up" to the millions of potential resources and users connected via the Internet. For computational grids to harness all available computing resources on the Internet, "their resource management service has to be decentralized." Hu said.

"We will use the peer-to-peer model to decentralize grid services. It's a new paradigm where each computer is both a client and a server."

Researchers at Purdue have created a computational grid called PUNCH, or Purdue University Network Computing Hubs. The hubs in PUNCH enable scientists from around the world to remotely access complex applications without needing to download the software to their own computers, saving time and money. For example, one such "nanoHub" provides applications for research in nanotechnology. Scientists can log onto the nanoHub to use specialized software remotely. Hu will test his experimental peer-to-peer software by connecting geographically distributed grids like PUNCH and sharing them among the users across the Internet.



Kendall T. Thomson

Thomson, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, will use the NSF grant to develop computer software tools to design new types of "nanoporous materials" for a wide range of industrial and technological applications. The materials contain pores so small they can act as tiny filters to separate molecules from chemical mixtures.

Such nanoporous materials offer promise for fuel cells because they might one day be used to efficiently separate and transport hydrogen ions from fuel sources such as methanol. The hydrogen ions would then be used to run the fuel cell, generating electricity.

New types of nanoporous materials will likely be used to increase the efficiency of various industrial processes, such as those needed to turn petroleum into important commodities like detergents, textile fabrics and plastics. The materials might also be used to make "nanowires" for future electronic devices.

Nanoporous materials are created by first finding the proper template, a molecule around which a material can crystallize. Once the crystallization has occurred, the molecular template is removed, leaving behind the pore-riddled material. The pore sizes and shapes depend on the types of molecular templates used. While the pore size is critical to certain chemical reactions, finding potential molecular templates is a challenge, and Thomson will use computer simulations that accurately describe molecular and atomic interactions. The simulation tools will initially be used to design new types of nanoporous materials called titanosilicates, a combination of titanium and silicon oxides.

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709,


Phillip S. Dunston: (765) 494-0640,

Y. Charlie Hu: (765) 494-9143,

Kendall T. Thomson: (765) 496-6706,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web site:
NSF Career Awards page

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