|Afra Zomorodian (Photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)
Afra Zomorodian, 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. Tanzeem Choudhury of computer science and Petia Vlahovska of Thayer School also received CAREER awards in 2009.
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, which 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?" he asks. "How about more complicated structures, such as a graph modeling the world-wide-web? Can we develop algorithms and software for analyzing these structures?"
Award recipients are selected for career development plans that integrate research and teaching. Zomorodian will also use the award to support his teaching, such as his course "Introduction to Computational Topology" for both undergraduates and graduate students. He also works with undergraduate interns in his laboratory.
By SUSAN KNAPP
Last Updated: 5/27/09