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>  News Releases >   2009 >   May

Third Dartmouth professor this year recognized with NSF Career Award

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 05/15/09 • Media Contact: Susan Knapp (603) 646-3661

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Afra Zomorodian
Afra Zomorodian (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Afra Zomorodian, an assistant professor of computer science, was recently honored with an award from the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award recognizes and supports the activities of teacher/scholars early in their careers, and the awardees are often considered emerging leaders in their respective fields. Recipients are selected for career development plans that integrate research and teaching.

Zomorodian works in computational topology, a theoretical area of computer science. He explains that the basic goal 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.

“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.”

He says that the core of the research is translating this intuition into theory, algorithms, and software for analysis of different classes of data. The theory is grounded in algebraic topology, making it distinct from other types of multi-scale analysis, which have a numerical nature.

The CAREER award allows Zomorodian to take his work to the next level. “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?”

Zomorodian will also use the award to support his teaching endeavors, such as the course Introduction to Computational Topology for both undergraduates and graduate students he’s currently teaching. He also works with undergraduate interns in his laboratory.

Other Dartmouth professors who have been honored with NSF Career Awards in the last five years include Devin Balkcom, Christopher Bailey-Kellogg, Amit Chakrabarti, Tanzeem Choudhury, Fabio Pellacini, and Sean Smith in the computer science department; Petia Vlahovska and Reza Olfati-Saber at the Thayer School of Engineering; Kristina Lynch, Barrett Rogers, and Robert Caldwell in physics and astronomy; David Peterson in the linguistics and cognitive science program, and David Bucci in psychological and brain sciences.

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