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November 24, 2003

Purdue scientists win young researcher awards

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Three researchers from Purdue University's School of Science have won the National Science Foundation's most prestigious honor for outstanding young researchers.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program recognizes and supports the early career development activities of teacher-scholars who are most likely to become future academic leaders. Awardees are selected on the basis of creative career development plans that effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their institution.

The National Science Foundation issued 407 Faculty Early Career Development awards for 2003. Recipients also receive $300,000 to $500,000 in research funding over four or five years as part of the award.

Purdue's recipients are:

• Christopher Bailey-Kellogg, assistant professor of computer science. Bailey-Kellogg is a part of one of the most promising fields of research in biology today – proteomics, or the study of proteins. Many scientists believe that by analyzing the molecular structure of the thousands of proteins in living things, their functions will become clearer, enabling the creation of more effective drugs and disease treatments. But visualizing these proteins, which are both complex and microscopically small, often requires a computer to help sort through the blizzard of data that experiments often produce, which is where Bailey-Kellogg comes in.

"We help measure little bits of geometry about the protein that tell, for example, whether two of its parts are close or far apart," he said. "Our computer programs and algorithms help sort through the data provided by experimentalists so they can obtain useful pictures of proteins."

His project, "Sparse Spatial Reasoning for High-Throughput Protein Structure Determination," pursues new theory, representations and algorithms to address data interpretation and experiment design problems. It also will bring together students from computer science and the life sciences to train them for interdisciplinary computational biology research.

• Donatella Danielli, assistant professor of mathematics. Among her areas of interest, Danielli studies what are known as "free boundary problems," which involve the border between an object of changing shape and its surroundings.

"If you put an ice cube in water, as it melts the cube shrinks and changes shape," she said. "Flames, such as those that burn in jet engines, also have free boundaries which change more quickly. We study the math that describes these free boundaries to help engineers design more efficient machines."

Danielli's research project, "Analytic and Geometric Aspects of Partial Differential Equations," also involves the study of calculus of variations and geometric measure theory. Her work addresses mathematical problems that also are of interest in fields such as mechanical engineering and robotics.

• Sonia Fahmy, assistant professor of computer science. If you surf the Internet, you've experienced congestion when data moves slowly, if at all. Some of Fahmy's work deals with getting messages around the bottlenecks that cause such congestion.

"If you send a request to the server, you might not get the reply back immediately because too many messages are trying to fit through a small-bandwidth link somewhere along the line," Fahmy said. "Our software helps reroute the messages so they can avoid the bottlenecks."

Her research project, "Exploiting Tomography in Network-Aware Protocols: Theory and Practice," covers various facets of networking, from theory to implementation, and provides graduate students with exposure to both theory and practice. The research will be integrated with laboratory and seminar development for undergraduate students as well as outreach activities for high school students.

Writer: Chad Boutin, (765) 494-2081, cboutin@purdue.edu

Sources: Chris Bailey-Kellogg, (765) 494-9025, cbk@cs.purdue.edu

Donatella Danielli, (765) 494-1920, danielli@math.purdue.edu

Sonia Fahmy, (765) 494-6183, fahmy@cs.purdue.edu

Related Web site:

NSF’s information on CAREER awards: http://www.nsf.gov/home/crssprgm/career/start.htm

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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