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News Release 06-108

Top Researcher-Educators Receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

Award is highest national honor for beginning independent investigators

PECASE recipient Eugene Billiot and two students work on molecular structures.

PECASE recipient Eugene Billiot and two students work on molecular structures.

July 26, 2006

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Today, the White House honored 20 NSF-supported researchers with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), one of the most prestigious awards to honor investigators in the early stages of promising research and education careers. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists and engineers beginning independent careers.

The 20 are among 56 recipients whose work was funded by federal agencies. President Bush honors the leaders for their extensive research accomplishments and noteworthy educational contributions. The 2005 winners of the NSF-sponsored awards bring the total number to 200 since the program began in 1996.

Awardees are chosen from 350 to 400 assistant professors who have received grants from NSF's Faculty Early Career Program (CAREER) in the same year of their nomination for the president's award. CAREER awards range from $400,000 to nearly $1 million over five years to support career research and education.

The awards announced today include six engineers: Silvia Ferrari, Duke University; Ashley James, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Scott D. Kelly and Michael S. Strano, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Suzie H. Pun, University of Washington; and James E. Smay, Oklahoma State University.

Four computer and information scientists are also being honored. They include Marina Bers, Tufts University; Thomas L. Martin, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; William E. Schuler, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; and Janet M. Wang, University of Arizona.

Five received awards in the mathematical and physical sciences: Anna K. Mapp, University of Michigan; Jonathan C. Mattingly, Duke University; Benjamin J. McCall, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Aravinthan D. Samuel, Harvard University; and Eugene J. Billiot, Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi.

In biological sciences, Rachel M. Brewster at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Tracy L. Johnson at the University of California, San Diego, and Rebeca B. Rosengaus at Northeastern University received awards.

The president also named social, behavioral and economic scientist Shelly Gable, University of California-Los Angeles, and geoscientist Julia E. Hammer, University of Hawaii.

For Engineering

Sylvia Ferrari of Duke University is applying advanced neural concepts to the design of intelligent controllers that can adapt quickly and reduce crashes in damaged civilian and military aircraft. She has become a leader in the new field of adaptive dynamic programming, which provides general-purpose methods for managing and designing complex systems of all kinds, as well as insight into how the brain works. Her education activities include developing exciting hands-on experiences for K-12 students, creating a new pipeline to educate and advance a diverse base of talented youth.

Ashley James of the University of Minnesota is conducting research on flows that occur at interfaces in many industrial, biomedical, and natural processes. Her state-of-the-art computational techniques include molecular effects that traditionally have been ignored. Her research will facilitate fundamental developments in interfacial fluid dynamics. She has developed an educational and community outreach plan that is closely integrated with undergraduate and graduate teaching ,with the aims of promoting education and increasing participation of students underrepresented in engineering.

Scott D. Kelly of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is developing a novel theory and sophisticated experiments for the control of biomorphic underwater vehicles deployed in close proximity to one another. The project examines hydrodynamic aspects of fish schooling as a way to dramatically improve the collective energy efficiency of underwater vehicles. The research will have a significant impact in several areas of science and engineering by furthering the understanding of biological control systems, human ability to mimic such systems, and the technology and methods to do so. He has made a commitment to mentoring, outreach, and educational activities, promoting the interest of diverse groups in science and engineering.

Suzie H. Pun of the University of Washington is involved in developing a new technology to allow efficient delivery of genetic material to the nuclei of non-dividing cells. The results of her research can have a widespread and significant impact on genetic engineering by enabling direct treatment of diseased cells and tissues. Her integrated research and education plans include summer science camps for eighth- and ninth-grade students and a job-shadowing program. These activities are expected to have a positive impact on middle-school students from underrepresented groups.

James E. Smay of Oklahoma State University studies the use of colloidal inks in a solid freeform fabrication process. Through the use of colloidal inks, it is possible to print two and three-dimensional structures, including complex geometries and those with varying material properties. These advantages enable a range of applications, from electronic packages to scaffolds for tissue engineering. His education plan includes, as its centerpiece, mentoring and educational activities involving students and young people of the Cherokee Nation.

Michael S. Strano of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is addressing key technical challenges in the manipulation and control of carbon nanotube structures, thereby enabling new applications in a wide variety of sensors, including medical devices. He is developing interactive software models that will be tested on his campus and at a university having a large minority population. His education activities include an outreach program that partners the College of Education at UIUC with several local area schools, bringing enhanced science education to classrooms that are otherwise disadvantaged.

For Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering

Marina Bers, Tufts University, is creating "identity construction environments" (ICEs) to foster positive development of children who are at risk of mental health-related problems--for example, those undergoing heart and kidney transplants. ICEs are multi-user, virtual environments to help youth develop competence, character, and confidence. Bers has designed technology tools ranging from robotics to collaborative learning environments and from storytelling programming languages to tangible human-computer interfaces. Her developmental technologies support young people in their quest to progress.

Thomas L. Martin of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is researching the area of e-textiles, with emphasis on medical monitoring. E-textiles are fabrics into which networks and batteries are woven to support flexible, wearable sensing and actuation networks. Martin is a leader in wearable computing. Since 2000, he has served as general chair, program co-chair, and on program and organizing committees for the IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers. At Virginia Tech, he established a new curriculum component on wearable and ubiquitous Computing. In 2004, he received the College of Engineering's Dean's award for Excellence in Teaching Innovation for the course.

William E. Schuler of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities integrates word-recognition and semantic interpretation into a unified model for natural language dialogue between people and computers. He is also building bridges between human language processing and fields such as computer vision, robotics and medicine. His students receive hands-on experience with a processing system for human language, which could be used for tasks such as getting information from a medical database over the telephone or commanding a team of robots.

Janet M. Wang of the University of Arizona is carrying out research on innovative computer-aided methodologies for the design of very large scale integrated (VLSI) circuits at the deep submicron level--that is, smaller than one- millionth of a meter. With increasing miniaturization and transistor sizes approaching atomic dimensions, such design issues have become a major challenge. Wang has actively participated in organizing design competitions for students at major international conferences in the field of VLSI design. Winners of this competition are often recruited into leading industry and academic positions.

For Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Anna K. Mapp of the University of Michigan uses tools of synthetic organic chemistry to create synthetic building blocks that, when linked into hierarchical structures, adopt some of the forms and functions of proteins. These protein "mimics" will be more stable than their natural counterparts and can be designed to react in ways that are impossible for true proteins. The aim of this research is to develop new kinds of molecules that can be used to probe the workings of cells and cellular systems. In addition to her laboratory research, Mapp is exploring new ways to bring greater diversity into the sciences.

Jonathan C. Mattingly of Duke University is developing mathematical tools that include the effects of randomness in studying models of complex systems. In particular, Mattingly works on understanding how random effects on a smaller scale can influence a system's behavior on a larger scale. This kind of behavior is important in phenomena from turbulent fluid flow to the chemical networks in living systems. Mattingly also brings the excitement of modern mathematics to young people through an energetic outreach program to local high schools, with the hope of encouraging students to enter careers in the sciences.

Benjamin J. McCall of the University of Illinois brings a unique perspective to combining laboratory work with observational astronomy. McCall and his students will make a group of exotic molecules in the laboratory to measure its unique electromagnetic fingerprint. With knowledge of these fingerprints, McCall and other scientists then look for evidence of the same molecules throughout the universe. The hope is that measuring the abundances of these molecules in a variety of environments can help answer larger questions about the chemical processes occurring in space. Besides his work in research, McCall is working to introduce the field of "astrochemistry" to the next generation of young scientists.

Aravinthan D. Samuel of Harvard University is using the techniques and tools of the physicist to answer questions in biology. Samuel is studying the neural systems of one of biology's workhorses--the roundworm--through a variety of methods, including using ultra-fast lasers to perform "neuronanosurgery." The goal is to develop better knowledge of the complexity of neural systems, which can help improve understanding of the neural systems of more complex organisms. Samuel is involved in a number of educational activities with undergraduates and high-school students, placing a special emphasis on education at the interface of the biological and physical sciences.

Eugene J. Billio of Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi is developing methods to separate pharmaceuticals according to their structural "handedness." This is an important problem, because "left-handed" and "right-handed" versions of the same molecules often display vastly different biological activity. They are notoriously difficult to separate, due to the similarity of their physical properties. Billiot is actively engaged in a number of educational activities, from mentoring young faculty to encouraging members of underrepresented groups to pursue careers in the sciences.

For Biological Sciences

Rachel M. Brewster of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County is using genetic analysis of zebrafish to understand how the brain and nervous system form during embryonic development. Her efforts will involve a series of diverse student populations from high-school to graduate students in research.

Tracy L. Johnson of the University of California, San Diego is recognized for research on how interactions between the molecular machines that synthesize and process RNA modulate gene expression, and for outstanding efforts to increase participation in underrepresented minority students.

Rebeca M. Rosengaus of Northeastern University studies evolutionary factors that affect the health and social structure of termites, with emphasis on adaptations they have evolved to resist disease, pathogens and parasites. Her work is at the intersection of evolutionary biology, behavioral and chemical ecology, immunology and genetics. In addition, she involves students and high-school teachers in innovative curriculum and laboratory approaches to studying animal behavior.

For Geological Sciences

Julia E. Hammer of the University of Hawaii works at the forefront of a new field that uses data derived from experiments and theory to understand how volcanoes behave during eruptions. Her research focuses on understanding the kinetics of mineral growth in magma conduits and their chambers, and has potential for transforming our understanding of how fast, and at what stage of the eruptive process, magmas crystallize. As volcanoes are central to the cultural and geologic heritage of Hawaii, Hammer is currently working with K-12 teachers to add an important link between her research activities and the education of high-school students on the island.

For Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences

Shelly Gable of the University of California, Los Angeles, integrates research on motivation and interpersonal relations into a comprehensive and innovative model that addresses the influence of individual disposition, environment and short-term goals on behaviors and outcomes. Specifically, she examines how the motives that partners bring to their relationships influence the way everyday events are noticed, interpreted and remembered. These processes are then investigated for their role in significant relationship outcomes, such as judgments of relationship satisfaction and decisions to end relationships. In addition, Gable is a leader in the creation of the Interdisciplinary Relationship Science Graduate Training Program at UCLA, organizing a summer internship program to broaden participation from groups traditionally underrepresented in science, and developing a Web site that serves as a public resource.


Media Contacts
Leslie Fink, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-5395, email:
Georgette Shaw, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-8363, email:

Program Contacts
Lawrence Upson, National Science Foundation, (703) 292-7564, email:

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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