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Three Illinois researchers receive Presidential Early Career Awards

James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Three researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were among 56 young researchers named as recipients of the 2005 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers.

Awards were made Wednesday in a White House ceremony presided over by John H. Marburger III, science adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The U. of I. winners and their current research interests:

Scott D. Kelly, mechanical science and engineering, 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.

Kelly’s research could 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. Kelly has made a commitment to mentoring, outreach and educational activities, promoting the interest of diverse groups in science and engineering.

Benjamin J. McCall, chemistry, 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 will then look for evidence of the same molecules throughout the universe.

McCall’s 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 research, McCall is working to introduce the field of astrochemistry to the next generation of young scientists.

Michael S. Strano, chemical and biomolecular engineering, 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 at Illinois and elsewhere.

Strano’s education activities include an outreach program that partners the College of Education at the U. of I. with several local area schools, bringing enhanced science education to classrooms that are otherwise disadvantaged.

The young scientists and engineers receive up to a five-year research grant to further their study in support of critical government missions. The federal agencies involved include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation.