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News Release 04-116

Twelve Women are Among NSF-Supported Young Scientists and Engineers to Receive Presidential Award for Early Career Achievements

Marks the first time a majority of NSF-named Presidential Early Career Awards go to women

Arjun Heimsath, a Dartmouth University geologist

Arjun Heimsath, a Dartmouth College geologist and recipient of a 2003 PECASE honor, collects bed ...

September 9, 2004

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The president has named 57 young government-supported scientists and engineers to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest national honor for investigators in the early stages of promising research careers who have also displayed leadership in their fields.

Twelve women are among the honored group of 20 National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported researchers, along with 37 more from other federally-sponsored science and engineering programs, to receive a PECASE. John H. Marburger III, science advisor to the president and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy is scheduled to present the awards in a 3:00 p.m. ceremony at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

For the first time since the awards were initiated in 1996, a majority of NSF-supported PECASE honorees are women. They work in biology, engineering, physical sciences, computer sciences, behavioral sciences and education, and represent almost all scientific and engineering fields in the 2003 group.

"The unmistakable message is that women have arrived," said Arden Bement, NSF's acting director. "It is gratifying that we now see broadening opportunities for women becoming successes, not only in the labs and classrooms, but within the entire scientific community, and recognized publicly, as the president today has done," Bement said. "These women have added to the vastly growing numbers of success stories that scientists and engineers in the academic community bring us daily. They are a source of immense pride."

The honorees for the 2003 PECASE included six engineers: Treena Livingston of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Kara L. Nelson of the University of California, Berkeley, Erica L. Plambeck and Juan G. Santiago of Stanford University, Elisabeth Smela, University of Maryland, College Park and Harry Dankowicz of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

In the mathematical and physical sciences category, mathematicians Konstantina Trivisa, University of Maryland, College Park, and Ravi Vakil of Stanford University, received presidential honors, as did physicist Paola Barbara of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and chemist Daniel R. Gamelin, University of Washington, Seattle.

Three biologists were also honored: Kimmen Sjölander of the University of California, Berkeley, Carla Mattos, North Carolina State University, and Carla E. Caceres, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Three computer scientists, Cyrus Shahabi of the University of Southern California, Sandeep K. Shukla of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and Yoky Matsuoka of Carnegie-Mellon University were honored today.

The president also named education researcher Roxanna A. Moreno of the University of New Mexico, behavioral scientist Jennifer S. Lerner of Carnegie-Mellon University, geologist Arjun M. Heimsath of Dartmouth College, and anthropologist Joseph Henrich of Emory University in Atlanta to receive the honor.

Six different federal departments, as well as NSF and NASA, sponsored the 57 recipients' research and education activities. NSF support of research in science and engineering covers the broadest range of fields. NSF's nominees are chosen from nearly 400 junior researchers and faculty members who have received grants from NSF's CAREER program in the same year.

Considered the agency's most prestigious award for new faculty members, CAREER awards honor the most promising young researchers in science and engineering fields who have translated their work into significant education activities. These young leaders receive monetary awards, ranging from $400,000 to nearly $1 million over five years to support their career research and education goals.

Today's awards bring to 160 the number of NSF-supported PECASE recipients since 1996.

2003 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers – Summary of Individual NSF Awardees' Accomplishments


Kimmen Sjölander, University of California, Berkeley, is conducting groundbreaking investigations, using computational methods, to describe how certain proteins are able to confer disease resistance on plants. Her approach allows protein sequences to be analyzed, then clustered, so new algorithms may be applied toward better predictions about protein structure and function. She is integrating her research into computational biology courses for undergraduate and graduate students that will enable them to tackle many computational challenges.

Carla Mattos, North Carolina State University, is at the forefront of research in structural biology, using a novel method of multiple-solvent crystal structures to identify functional parts within proteins. Her quantitative approaches merge physical science with biology. Her teaching activities include mentoring undergraduates and underserved minority students, while fostering diversity within and beyond the academic community. Her courses for undergraduates and graduates incorporate student research experiences on Mattos’ concepts of model building and refinement of crystal structures.

Carla Caceres, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, combines the tools of several fields of biology with new technology to reconstruct the history of the many varieties of zooplankton and to explore the factors contributing to their diversity or extinction. Her classes for non-scientists, her classroom manual for elementary and middle school students, and her outdoor field guide for students and their families, demonstrate outstanding public outreach.


Sandeep Shukla, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, is a leading researcher in designing, analyzing and predicting performance of electronic systems embedded on a chip. He has integrated several innovative techniques and theories into novel approaches to solve problems in microelectrolnic systems design. He applies research concepts into new courses in computer engineering and mentors minority and women students in processor design as well as in computer science and engineering overall.

Yoky Matsuoka, Carnegie Mellon University, leads new studies in developing a virtual environment for rehabilitation and human augmentation with a novel and safe wearable robotic device that could assist motor-impaired students in their daily tasks. The research may lead to significant improvements in robotics and biomedical areas by improving the understanding of gaps between perceived and actual movements in humans. She is also creating an innovative interdisciplinary educational environment that increases interactions between motor-impaired and engineering students.

Cyrus Shahabi, University of Southern California, is pioneering research in how to manage the streams of sensor data created as humans interact with virtual-reality environments. The multidimensional databases and techniques for storing and studying such data streams have wide-ranging potential applications from medicine to space exploration. He incorporates research results into his courses, providing students opportunities to learn in multi-disciplinary environments. His commitment to broadening research participation is evident in teaching and outreach to underrepresented groups.


Roxana Moreno, University of New Mexico, is an innovative researcher on how science teachers learn to apply principles of educational psychology to their classroom experiences through new technology tools and materials. Moreno’s work addresses complex problems in classrooms populated with primarily Native American and Hispanic students that is contributng to new designs of educational technology for pre- and in-service teachers.


Harry Dankowicz, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, is conducting new research into non-linear dynamics, the response of physical systems to small changes that create abrupt changes in system properties. His results may help prevent fall-related injuries due to premature foot contact during walking and running, for example. His innovative educational plans include a textbook for a junior-level design course that offers sample cases of real-world engineering applications.

Treena Livingston, New Jersey Institute of Technology, is investigating a systematic approach to evaluating biomaterials in which cells rather than drugs are used to treat diseases or disorders, elevating their potential as therapies of choice for the regeneration of a number of damaged or diseased tissues and organs. Her education activities include developing undergraduate and graduate curricula and community outreach to underrepresented groups in engineering and science. She is also developing a workshop for high-school teachers reaching the North New Jersey and nearby New York region.

Kara L. Nelson, University of California, Berkeley, is developing rigorous scientific methods and quantitative tools to address the worldwide public health threat posed by human pathogens in water. Her research will lead to possible re-evaluation of water quality standards and improved treatment processes. Her educational activities encourage and support the participation of young scientists and engineers in international research and education opportunities, especially in developing countries.

Erica L. Plambeck, Stanford University, is applying innovative approaches to optimize real-time information for industrial issues such as movement in the supply chain, and dynamic control of pricing and production. Her use of game theory, statistics, adaptive control and dynamic programming, among others, will provide results that will be widely shared with industry and incorporated into business and engineering schools' M.B.A. and Ph.D. teaching materials, to prepare students to become future industrial and academic leaders.

Juan G. Santiago, Stanford University, is conducting innovative research in electrokinetics and fluid dynamics at the microscopic scale, which could lead to parallel discoveries in fundamental genetics research, new pharmaceuticals and designs for biomedical devices, among others. Santiago is merging his research into his undergraduate and graduate teaching and instructional materials, and works to interest high-school students from underrepresented groups in science and engineering.

Elisabeth Smela, University of Maryland, College Park, is developing a new, robust, autonomous actuator technology, which, when incorporated into micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), could advance new devices for walking, manipulating or flying. The outcome of this work will have significant impact on the robotics field. Her education program for graduate and undergraduates allows students to formulate their own MEMS projects to gain research experience in a hands-on learning environment.


Arjun M Heimsath, Dartmouth College, has led research to quantify mechanical and chemical processes of surface erosion affecting upper-level landscapes, contributing to the better understanding of soil production, transport and landscape dynamics. His extended work is testing hypotheses and building an education component that includes integrating field studies into instructional techniques and fostering undergraduate independent research. He is also involving earth science undergraduates in one-on-one mentoring of underrepresented secondary school students from Boston's inner city.


Paola Barbara, Georgetown University, is contributing to understanding the interfaces and junctions of superconductors and nanotubes that is leading to potential applications such as biological and chemical sensors. Her innovation in teaching physical sciences covers both science and non-science majors by combining research and mentoring across disciplines, and bringing research into the classrooms of non-science majors, such as the introduction of nanotechnology in her course, "How Things Work."

Daniel Gamelin, University of Washington, Seattle, is conducting advanced studies in new nanoscale, diluted semiconductor materials employing synthetic methods that may reveal new knowledge of how these materials are applied to new devices in high-performance opto-electronics and quantum computers, among others. He is introducing new materials science courses and requirements for graduate students while sharing knowledge in undergraduate and graduate institutions in the Pacific northwest through a "materials interest consortium."

Konstantina Trivisa, University of Maryland, College Park, is applying her expertise in applied partial differential equations to the increased understanding of a wide variety of important physical systems modeled by conservation laws. Her research is also important for the design of high performance computational algorithms. Her educational activities include supervising individual projects of high-school through graduate-level students. She works to increase diversity among underrepresented groups to study applied mathematics and choose it as a career.

Ravi Vakil, Stanford University, a theoretical mathematician, is at the forefront of modern algebraic geometry by leading a study of the moduli space of curves, to deepen a growing understanding of the "universal facts" of these objects. This is adding much to core mathematics theory as well as applications such as String Theory and physics. He has established significant educational outreach to Bay-Area groups devoted to stimulating mathematics learning among high-school students, and he has established a journal introducing high-school students to mathematics through hands-on problem solving.


Jennifer Lerner, Carnegie Mellon University, is investigating the role of emotion in judgment and decision making, testing a theory on predicting relations among specific emotions and the outcomes of judgments or choices made, based on probability and risk assessment, evaluation of value, and attributions of responsibility. Lerner is sharing her work on behavioral decision research to broader audiences of students, the public, media and policymakers. She is also actively developing a new interdisciplinary undergraduate major in decision science at Carnegie Mellon.

Joseph Henrich, Emory University, is becoming renowned for work on the psychology of economic behavior, cultural learning, and mental models, contributing to knowledge about creation of social classes, ethnicity, and the evolution of human social institutions. His results are creating new options for policy makers in developing more targeted interventions in fields as diverse as public health, agriculture and conservation. His research is providing a basis for field work and tools for students of several universities to study the process of cultural learning.


  • Cyrus Shahabi, a University of Southern California 2003 PECASE recipient and computer scientist ...
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For more information on PECASE and CAREER, see:

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The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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