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Emerging Leaders

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Three scientists recognized by NSF in 2009

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) recognizes and supports the activities of teacher/scholars early in their careers. The awardees are often considered emerging leaders in their respective fields. Recipients are selected for career development plans that integrate research and teaching. Dartmouth's three 2009 career scholars join a substantial group of career honorees (see list at bottom of page).

Tanzeem Choudhury

Tanzeem Choudhury (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

TANZEEM CHOUDHURY, assistant professor of computer science, works on developing computational techniques to better understand and predict human behavior and social interactions.

Community Sensing: Research supported by her CAREER award, Choudhury says, works toward developing new community-based techniques for capturing, recognizing, and interpreting human activities from body-worn sensors. Mobile sensing devices-tiny computers or cell phones equipped with sensors-allow her to make sense of how people behave.

Smart Machines: Choudhury is building machine-learning methods that can collectively learn about behaviors within a group of people. The programs can gather information with minimal human supervision and can adapt to new activities and new environments. "We are developing a community-guided learning paradigm, which leverages people's social ties and behavioral similarities," says Choudhury.

Transforming Community Health Assessment: Research in human behavior modeling has the potential to transform community health assessment, she suggests. It allows detailed and nuanced clinically relevant information to be collected "continuously, cheaply, and unobtrusively, over long periods of time."

Medical Teamwork: Choudhury will be collaborating with medical researchers to evaluate the usefulness of the technology in two areas: measuring the degree of independence among the elderly and measuring social interactions among high-functioning autistic children.

Petia Vlahovska

Petia Vlahovska (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

PETIA VLAHOVSKA, assistant professor of engineering sciences at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering, works to understand and mimic the design of the biological cell.

Highly Interdisciplinary: Vlahovska's research combines engineering and biophysics as she looks into questions such as the link between the unusual mechanics of the red blood cell membrane and blood viscosity. "My research advances fundamental knowledge in cell biomechanics, and it is helpful to biomedical applications such as targeted drug delivery," she says.

Multiple Methods: "One of the central issues we're now investigating involves the mechanisms of how a membrane is deformed by fluid or electrical stresses," Vlahovska reports. Her lab studies these problems through theoretical modeling, numerical simulations, and experimentation.

For the Future: This award, Vlahovska notes, will also support her ongoing work in teaching and training the next generation of engineers, physicists, and biologists so they all know how to cooperate effectively on problems that cut across these areas.

Afra Zomorodian

Afra Zomorodian (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

AFRA ZOMORODIAN, assistant professor of computer science, works in computational topology, a theoretical area of computer science.

Shape: Zomorodian explains that the basic goal of computational topology is to understand how a shape is connected. The shape could be real, such as the surface of the Earth, or abstract, such as the configuration space of a robot, a space that characterizes how a robot can move.

Persistent Features: "My work centers on a form of multi-scale analysis called persistence," says Zomorodian, "which analyzes a shape by examining a geometric history. The term persistence refers to the notion that important structural features of the shape persist through this history, while noise does not."

From Intuition to Analysis: The core of his research, Zomorodian says, involves moving from an intuitive understanding of concepts like persistence to building theory, algorithms, and software that can be used to analyze different classes of data.

On to the Next Level: Zomorodian notes that the grant will allow him to pursue questions such as, "Does a persistence theory exist for dynamic data, such as moving images or folding proteins? How about more complicated structures, such as a graph modeling the World Wide Web? Can we develop algorithms and software for analyzing these structures?"

Support for Teaching: Zomorodian, who currently teaches "Introduction to Computational Topology" at the undergraduate and graduate level, says that CAREER funds will also support his work as a teacher, both in the classroom and with undergraduate interns in his laboratory.

NSF CAREER Scholars at Dartmouth

Members of the Dartmouth faculty who have received CAREER awards from the NSF in recent years include: Devin Balkcom, Christopher Bailey-Kellogg, Amit Chakrabarti, Tanzeem Choudhury, Fabio Pellacini, Sean Smith, and Afra Zomorodian in computer science; Petia Vlahovska and Reza Olfati-Saber at Thayer School of Engineering; Kristina Lynch, Barrett Rogers, and Robert Caldwell in physics and astronomy; David Peterson in linguistics and cognitive science; and David Bucci in psychological and brain sciences.

Last Updated: 1/14/10