September 5, 2006
Physical sciences departments welcome 19 new faculty for 2006-07
Nineteen new members of the regular faculty are beginning work in the physical sciences at Brown this fall:
Natalie Kleinfelter Domelle,
Boris Rozovsky and
Suzanne Sindi in Applied Mathematics;
Kathleen Hess and
Jason Sello in Chemistry;
Benjamin Raphael in Computer Science;
Shereif Reda and
Rashid Zia in Engineering;
Jessica Whiteside and
Michael Wyatt in Geological Sciences;
Hee Oh and
Ben Wieland in Mathematics;
Derek Stein and
Anastasia Volovich in Physics.
How can we better diagnose and treat patients suffering from lupus? That is the problem 35-year old Carthene R. Bazemore-Walker is determined to solve while working in the Department of Chemistry at Brown.
Bazemore-Walker brings her background as a bioanalytical chemist to bear on a disease that affects 2 million people in the United States alone.
“My research program is multidisciplinary and covers aspects of analytical chemistry, biochemistry, clinical chemistry and immunology,” she says. She uses a combination of traditional biochemical techniques and state-of-the-art mass spectrometry to facilitate her research.
Lupus is a progressive autoimmune disease that can ultimately lead to death. The disease is characterized by chronic inflammation of the skin, joints, kidneys lungs, heart and/or brain. Some people will develop a rash due to a reaction to UV sunlight; others will develop kidney disease.
“Any organ or bodily system can be affected,” Bazemore-Walker explains. “The disease is so complex that it is very difficult to diagnose, yet early diagnosis is key to staving off the progression of the disorder.”
She is interested in identifying biological markers, specifically proteins that will help identify those people who will have a more serious form of lupus as opposed to those who will have a more benign form.
“My focus is the identification of those proteins that are differentially excreted in the urine of a subset of individuals whose kidney function has been compromised by the disease,” Bazemore-Walker says.
“A person’s genetic information is the blueprint. Proteins are the functional entity derived from the blueprint. Some proteins may have been modified over the course of time, and some proteins are expressed in some people but not others. If we can identify these proteins, we can determine who will be affected by lupus.”
Bazemore-Walker earned her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Virginia. She did her postdoctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technololgy and worked briefly for a biotechnology company. She taught at Norfolk State University before returning to her graduate alma mater as an assistant professor of chemistry where she taught for one year before Brown lured her away.
During the next few years, Bazemore-Walker’s laboratory at Brown will establish novel methodologies to identify and comprehensively analyze proteins derived first from mouse models and then humans. Fueling her research is her passion for knowledge and her desire to help those who are suffering from this debilitating disease.
“There hasn’t been a new therapeutic for lupus in over three decades because the disease is so difficult to gauge. So if my lab can identify critical biological markers for the disease, we can make a significant contribution to advancing drug development.”
– Amy Morton
Kathleen Hess loves to teach. “It’s the personal interaction,” she says, “taking someone who thinks they can’t do something, and showing them that they can.”
Hess shows students the fascinating connections between lecture and lab: “The key is not being afraid to make mistakes.” This fall at Brown, she’s hoping she can inspire in her students the same love of chemistry that she has – a love that has made all the difference to her in her career thus far, with “great role models and mentors.”
Hess has taught organic, allied health, introductory, liberal arts, and general chemistry already. She has also been at the National Institutes of Health as a postdoctoral fellow, investigating the chemical mechanisms of degradation of biological molecules by oxygen radicals such as hydroxyl, perhydroxyl, and peroxyl.
Hess received her M.S. and Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Chicago with an undergraduate major in chemistry from DePaul University. She was a special lecturer in chemistry at Providence College and an assistant professor of chemistry at Cypress College, where she was also the chemistry department coordinator. She has revised and validated courses on a regular basis, developed exams, evaluated textbooks, updated safety standards, coordinated lab schedules, conducted experiments using the Vernier system, and developed a laboratory-based teacher preparation course. She will run the undergraduate organic and inorganic labs in the GeoChem building.
– Molly de Ramel
Henrik Hult dreamed of becoming a sports coach. Luckily for Brown, he also loved research and math – “finding out the nature of things, and how things work” – he says.
Hult comes to Brown’s Division of Applied Mathematics with interests in applied probability, math and finance. “There are infinitely many ways to discover things, discover connections between things” he says, “proving the theorem and understanding why things work.”
Hult received his M.Sc. from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in 2000 and his Ph.D. from the same university in 2003. He comes to Brown after a one year postdoctoral term at the Laboratory of Actuarial Mathematics at the University of Copenhagen and three semesters of postdoctoral work at the Cornell University School of Operations Research and Industrial Engineering. He has received research grants from the Swedish Research Council and the Sweden-America foundation. In 2004 he was named Young Statistician of the Year by the Swedish Statistical Association. Hult’s research interests lie in applied probability and stochastic processes with emphasis on extreme values, large deviations and applications in finance and insurance.
He says he focuses on “probability and extreme models in search of the big question.” He seeks “the sensation when you solve a problem – which is more or less always the core of the work. [The pursuit of the Big Question] is flexible; all you need is a pen and paper.” It’s not sports, but it’s a living.
– Molly de Ramel
Richard Kent entered the University of North Carolina at Asheville intending to become a high school English teacher.
Turns out, though, that his interest in mathematics got in the way. Kent graduated in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and literature. This past summer, he received a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Texas–Austin, where he received the Frank Gerth Dissertation Award.
Kent is interested in the branch of mathematics known as topology. His current research interest is deformations of hyperbolic manifolds. Imagine that your hands are on either side of a big, solid rubber ball, Kent says. Now imagine that your hands put pressure on the surface, reshaping or stretching it a bit. Kent’s research takes a look at how to mathematically express what happens deep inside the ball.
– Tracie Sweeney
When am I ever going to use this?
This ubiquitous question among young students is one reason Natalie Kleinfelter Domelle made the career switch from high school math teacher to applied mathematics scholar.
After completing her B.S. in mathematics with a certificate in education from the University of Iowa in 1996, the Delaware native took a teaching job at Regis High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She describes teaching as one of her favorite experiences, but Kleinfelter Domelle was laid off after just one year due to school consolidation.
“My students always wanted to know when they would use the material outside of the classroom,” Kleinfelter Domelle recalled. “I knew there were applications out there – but I needed to learn what they were. Since I had the opportunity to attend graduate school, I decided I’d learn them there.”
Kleinfelter Domelle returned to the University of Iowa for her master’s in applied mathematics and soon “fell in love with a variety of applications, mainly in epidemiology and ecology.”
She decided to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematical modeling at Purdue. In her second semester, Kleinfelter Domelle took a course with John H. Cushman, who introduced her to research in porous media. Cushman eventually became Kleinfelter Domelle’s mentor and advisor and helped expand her studies to include mathematical modeling for soil science, chemical engineering and drug delivery systems.
In the last six years, Kleinfelter Domelle has focused her research on flow and transport in porous media, dispersion theories, upscaling and homogenization techniques, and stochastic differential equations. Kleinfelter Domelle, along with Cushman and other colleagues, has collaborated on 10 publications, with topics ranging from models of blood circulation in tissues to flow through soil.
“It’s important to me to be able to contribute something that will be worthwhile to our environment and the new challenges that we face in disease and contamination,” she said. “These are issues that our society needs to deal with and needs to deal with in a variety of ways – including theoretically, through fieldwork, and actual remediation techniques.”
As the Praeger Assistant Professor in Brown’s Division of Applied Mathematics, Kleinfelter Domelle is looking forward to her return to teaching and inspiring her students to have an interest in theoretical mathematics “because it relates to so many disciplines.”
– Deborah Baum
Meenakshi Narain, who will join the Department of Physics in January, played an important role in the discovery of the top quark. She’s still on the prowl for new discoveries.
Attracting her interest are things like technicolor models – theories that go beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. “We haven’t observed anything yet,” she said, “but it is fun to keep on looking.”
Some form of technicolor may be discovered at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle accelerator, near Geneva, Switzerland. Narain is expected to play a central role once the facility begins operating in the coming year. In preparation, she is conducting a research project – “Development of Techniques to Identify the Signatures of Little Higgs Models at the Large Hadron Collider with the ATLAS Detector” – this fall as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
“The possibility of discovering new models ... is so large that there’s great excitement among experimental physicists,” Narain said. “We may find something that defines the future of particle physics. Nobody really knows what may be there.”
In addition to conducting research at the LHC, Narain’s work at Fermilab, where she has been a key player in the D–Zero Collaboration, will continue. “Fermilab will collect a lot more data – it’s a more improved accelerator,” she said. “Data accumulated there may give us ... a new energy regime – something we have never explored before. It will be fun to see something absolutely new. That’s what keeps us going.”
Narain, who received her doctorate in physics from State University of New York–Stony Brook, comes to Brown from Boston University, where she has taught since 1998. As an educator and researcher, Narain considers it part of her mission to encourage minorities and women to consider a career in the physical sciences. At Boston University, Narain has been active in creating programs that help build science skills and interests in youngsters beginning at a young age.
– Tracie Sweeney
Why does Hee Oh do math? “Because I feel it’s very beautiful,” she says. “When you see and discover the inner structure, it’s magical.”
She admits her area is hard to pin down. “Sometimes it is hard to say what field is my field. ... I will do number theory problems but use a geometry method.” Her math is “a combination of group theory and geometry and number theory.”
Oh received her bachelor of science at Seoul National University and then earned her Ph.D. in 1997 at Yale University. Shortly after, she received a Golda Meir Postdoctoral Fellowship at Hebrew University, and in 1999 she became an assistant professor at Princeton University. She comes to Brown after three years as a tenured associate professor at the California Institute of Technology. She has garnered the Lady Davis Postdoctoral fellowship and NSF research grants in 1997-1998, 2000-2003 and 2003-2006.
Oh has been the recipient of several distinguished invitations, including two memberships at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and one at the Isaac Newton Institute. Her field is ergodic theory and discrete groups. Oh brings a new strength in a fundamentally important field to Brown, while simultaneously forging a stronger connection between the University’s geometry and number theory groups.
To the non-specialist, the mathematics of Oh’s work is incomprehensible. For Oh, “When you see a problem and discover the right path, ... it’s like appreciating a new piece of art.”
– Molly de Ramel
It’s cancer’s sneaky multiplicity that intrigues Benjamin Raphael. “The amazing part to me is just how many mutations there are in cancer.”
Raphael can count them. His work is a hybrid of math and computer science. He designs algorithms to look at the human genome sequence, with a major focus on cancer genomics. According to Raphael, biology is undergoing a revolution spurred by the advent of genome sequencing and high-throughput experimental technologies that are transforming biology into an information science. In this new era, computational and mathematical techniques are essential to advance the understanding of biological systems. His research interests are in the development and applications of such techniques.
“With technology like genome sequence technology, you can address some questions in a purely computational way ... there’s a lot of power to sort out what’s real, and what’s not ... I’m especially excited to do something on a computer, then see it in the lab,” he says.
In joining Soren Istrail and Chip Lawrence, Raphael is intrigued by working at the boundaries of more traditional fields of study. “Brown seems to have a long tradition, of interdisciplinary work, so there aren’t some of these barriers between departments, of people not talking to each other like at bigger institutions.”
Raphael earned his Sc.B. in mathematics and biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1996, and his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California–San Diego in 2002. He held an Alfred P. Sloan postdoctoral fellowship at UCSD until 2004, and was then awarded the Burroughs Wellcome Career Award at the Scientific Interface, a significant honor for postdoctoral fellows.
Raphael is intrigued by the cutting edge at the Center for Computational Molecular Biology, commenting, “The Center is a recent startup – there really seems to be a commitment from the University to this new field.”
– Molly de Ramel
What motivates Sherief Reda? The thrill of discovery. He’s certainly got that chance, working at the boundaries between electrical engineering and computer sciences, digital circuits and DNA. “Digital circuits and gene chips are not functionally similar, but the method of creating them is,” he says.
Reda grew up in Cairo and came to the United States for the first time to the University of California–San Diego to get his Ph.D. in computer science and engineering. He’ll be joining Brown in the Division of Engineering, working with integrated circuits, processors and computers. He’ll work on the physical design of circuits on a nanometer level. “The big race is to go smaller and smaller – the big question is how small you can get,” he says. Reda is looking for new ways to do just that with transistors. “They could be anywhere, from in your brain to in a car.”
Reda received a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in electrical and computer engineering from Ain Shams University in Cairo before beginning his work at UCSD. His research is primarily focused on the physical design of integrated circuits, but other interests include testing and diagnosis of circuits, hardware verification, physical design of DNA arrays, and combinatorial algorithms. His research has resulted in an extensive list of publications in several leading journals and presentations at conferences, including a best paper award for “Test Time Reduction Through Test Data Mutation.”
He’s excited to come to Brown’s interdisciplinary campus: “I get engineering problems and use computer science techniques and mathematical techniques to solve those problems.”
– Molly de Ramel
Boris L. Rozovsky says he first thought of himself as “an artist, a painter” and so enrolled in art school. Soon, he says, he discovered that “I was not Leonardo.” So he traded his brushes for a calculator. Lucky for Brown.
Rozovksy received an M.S. in probability and statistics in 1968 and a Ph.D. in physical and mathematical sciences in 1972, both from Moscow State University. He comes to Brown after having spent the last 14 years as professor of mathematics and director of the Center for Applied Mathematical Sciences at the University of Southern California.
Rozovksy is a central figure worldwide in the theory and applications of stochastic partial differential equations, and was the recipient of the Kolmogorov medal in 2003. He also received the International Academy of Natural and Social Sciences Medal in 1997. His research has been funded by many grants from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Army Research Office, and the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency.
“I was always good in math,” he says. He recalls fondly the early years of his stellar career – during what he calls the “golden years of mathematics in Moscow” – in the lab of Andre Kolmogorov. “So many new ideas around,” he says. Rozovsky came to the United States after the Soviet economic collapse in 1988.
What problem is he working on now? “Everything,” he answers, “wall to wall mathematics, aerospace, mathematical science, computer science. My research looks like a tree. There is a trunk, there are branches that go into different areas.”
Rozovsky’s “trunk” is made up of stochastic partial differential equations, one of the most active areas in general probability theory, applying to engineering, geophysics and oceanography in particular. His work relates to the prediction of earthquakes or turbulence for airplanes. In other words, he says, he has “many needles in many haystacks – and the haystacks are moving.”
– Molly de Ramel
Jason Sello looks at small organisms that have a big impact on human health.
“Many people don’t know that many of our medicines come from bacteria that grow in the soil,” he says. “We capitalize on the antibiotic properties of the molecules that they use in chemical warfare with competing organisms. Many drugs used in the treatment of bacterial infections and cancer and in the suppression of the immune system for organ transplantation are derived from soil bacteria.”
His research program at Brown will investigate the production of antibiotics by Streptomyces bacteria. These ubiquitous soil-borne bacteria produce more than half of the 10,000 known antibiotics. Many important drugs, including oxytetracycline, doxorubicin and tacrolimus, are produced by the large-scale fermentation of streptomycetes. Under specific conditions, streptomycetes produces specialized enzymes that catalyze the chemical transformation of simple metabolites like amino acids, fatty acids and carbohydrates into structurally complex antibiotics. As this phenomenon is at the interface between chemistry and biology, Sello will use experimental methods from both disciplines to understand how these bacteria adapt their metabolism for the production of antibiotics.
Sello is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Morehouse College, where he earned a B.S. in biology, magna cum laude, in 1997. He received a Ph.D. in biophysics in 2002 for research in organic synthesis carried out in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology of Harvard University, supported by graduate fellowships from both the National Science Foundation and the Division of Organic Chemistry of the American Chemical Society. He spent two years at Harvard Medical School as a UNCF-Merck postdoctoral fellow. A Career Award at the Scientific Interface from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund supported two years of his research in streptomyces biology carried out at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England.
So in the long run, what does Sello hope to gain from the studies of these bacteria? He comments, “This research will point the way toward new methods for the discovery and production of novel antibiotics.”
– Molly de Ramel
Suzanne Sindi arrives at Brown for a joint appointment in the Division of Applied Mathematics and the Center for Computational Molecular Biology. She is excited to work at the new center, with all the work it does across different areas of mathematics, computer science and biology. She says she “likes using mathematical models to uncover more about biology, in particular with actual experimental biologists. ... There are more and more places to develop closer affiliations.
“Math is a tool,” she adds, “how DNA sequences themselves have evolved over time. ... It’s really important to have a strong relationship between the math and biology fields – people really do think differently.” That passion for interdisciplinary discovery fuels her work: “Everyday I come to work, and I work on something no one knows the answer to.”
Sindi earned the Ph.D. in applied mathematics and scientific computation at the University of Maryland–College Park, where she also earned the M.S. in the same area. Her B.A. in mathematics, with a minor in computer science, is from California State University–Fullerton.
At College Park, Sindi seems to have swept most of the available math awards: a VIGRE Dissertation Fellowship; the Ruth David Award from the Dean of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Science on the basis of academic merit; and winner of the annual graduate student conference in the mathematics department, to name a few.
“The power of math,” Sindi says, “is in an ability to abstract an ecosystem or biological system – what kind of behavior can emerge?”
– Molly de Ramel
Marcus Spradlin, a 32-year-old Manning Assistant Professor of physics, would like to understand the physics of a strong nuclear interaction in a precise way.
“Strong nuclear interaction – that’s the force which binds together the elementary particles inside protons and neutrons and everything else that our world is made of,” he explains. “Mathematically, we don’t understand this theory very well. We’re trying to develop new methods and insights to help us be able to calculate what the weight or the mass of a proton should be. In principle, computers are starting to get powerful enough to give you some approximation of the answer, but we’d like to think we’re smarter than computers and can find a trick to solve the problem with pencil and paper.”
Spradlin says that if you understand the theory of strong interactions, you can also understand quantum gravity and the physics of black holes and how they form and evaporate.
“It sounds completely unrelated, but there is a mathematical relation between these two theories that’s opened up over the last 10 years and it’s helped us make a lot of progress. We don’t understand either side very well, so if we can understand one side, perhaps we can translate it into the other language and give this new insight on the other side.”
Spradlin’s passion for new ways of thinking extends also to his teaching methods. He tries to develop new ways of imparting difficult material to his students.
“Historically there’s been a lot of disconnect between teaching and research. In one sense, the modern stuff we’re researching is so advanced, some people believe students won’t understand it. In reality, though, if you phrase many of these ideas the right way and put them in the right context, it’s natural to teach them to students.”
Spradlin received his MA.. and Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University. He spent the last year as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. His fondest hope at Brown is to see an appreciation of the value of theoretical physics applied more broadly – not only to other areas of physics but even to neighboring fields like chemistry and biology.
“I don’t expect all my students to become theoretical physicists, but if I can help them apply what they have learned to whatever their field of interest is, then I’ll have succeeded.”
– Amy Morton
How to sum up Derek Stein’s attitude toward science? “I just ask ‘Why not?’” he says. “And if it doesn’t work this way, I try something completely different.”
Stein looks at how a new world of biophysics overlaps electrical engineering. “On a computer chip we read electrons, in a cell it is DNA,” he says.
In other words, Derek Stein is interested in bio-nanoscience and single-molecule physics, using nanostructures to interrogate the structure and behavior of individual biological molecules. He’ll be teaching when he starts this fall, and running a lab. “There are a lot of possibilities,” he says. “The idea of building things has really always been clear to me.”
Stein received a B.Sc. from McGill University and Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2003. He comes to Brown after his postdoctoral research at Delft University of Technology. He is the first hire in physics under the initiative of a Center for Nanoscience and Soft Matter (CNSSM), jointly proposed with the Department of Chemistry and the Division of Engineering. His interest and notable research accomplishments in bio-nanoscience will complement the activities in this field currently under way at Brown. Stein possesses a distinct list of publications, with special interest in nanostructure for single-Molecule biophysics. He was named the Kao Scholar at Harvard University and the Graduate Student Gold Award Winner by the Materials Research Society.
At Brown, he’s “looking forward to meeting a lot of people who come at it from a different perspective.” What had struck him about Brown? He says it was the “atmosphere ... the amount of collaboration. People are interested and supportive of one another.”
– Molly de Ramel
As a youngster, Anastasia Volovich says she posed big questions. As a theoretical physicist, she’s still asking them.
The new Richard and Edna Salomon Assistant Professor of Physics is working on the frontier of string theory. Her research in that realm – a world of particle physics, general relativity, mathematics, gauge/string dualities, black holes, de Sitter space, noncommutative geometry, and string field theory – has earned national and international recognition. The author of more than 30 scientific publications, Volovich has been an invited speaker at string theory conferences and workshops around the world.
These days, Volovich finds herself exploring the gauge theory and quantum gravity, and searching for “new tools and calculations that could help us.”
“I always hesitated whether to be a math major or a physics major,” she said; she wound up pursuing both. Between 1993 and 1999, she studied mathematics at the Independent University of Moscow and physics at Moscow State University, where she received a bachelor’s as well as a master’s degree. Physics won out: She received her doctorate in physics in 2002 at Harvard University, and, more recently, conducted postdoctoral research at the Kalvi Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California–Santa Barbara and at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study.
Volovich has won several awards and honors, including a Soros Foundation fellowship (1996-1998), the Khoklov Prize at Moscow State University for the best master’s degree thesis (1999), and the Van Vleck Award presented to an outstanding prospective student by Harvard University (1998).
But there’s another award that hints at an interest outside of seeking answers to big questions. Volovich is a prize-winning figure skater.
“I competed in figure skating for 10 years,” she says, laughing. “I can still do single jumps.”
– Tracie Sweeney
Some 200 million years ago, profound changes on our planet affected life on land and sea. Known as the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event, it wiped out at least half the species known to have been living on Earth at that time, and opened the way for dinosaurs to assume dominance.
This mass extinction
happened within less than 10,000 years – a blink of an eye in
As a graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and as a visiting research student at CalTech and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Whiteside focused on the Triassic-Jurassic geologic record, particularly the ancient lakebeds that formed as the landmass known as Pangea started to split. Within these rocks is a biological and environmental record of change spanning tens of millions of years.
“I’m especially interested in how life rebounds from catastrophic events, how ecological systems rebuild from massive insults, such as mass extinctions and abrupt climate change, and reassemble themselves over time through the advent of key evolutionary adaptations,” Whiteside said recently.
Her research culminated in her doctoral thesis titled Catastrophic, Climatic, and Biotic Modulation of Ecosystem Evolution. It suggests that the extinction event – perhaps caused by an asteroid hitting Earth or massive volcanic eruptions as Pangea rifted apart – created a super-greenhouse effect that disrupted the Earth’s carbon cycle. A second disruption occurred 400,000 years later, possibly due to the lack of biodiversity in plants. Whiteside said it took another 2 million years until new plants could adapt to the new climate.
The earth has experienced several intervals of extreme hothouse conditions, some of them associated with mass extinctions. But some scientists believe that the next climatic change will be human, not geological, in origin. Whitehouse’s comparative paleoecological and carbon cycle studies on rocks from ancient lake and marine systems that existed during ancient hothouse conditions may help provide the basis for climate model validation, “a necessary prequel to practical prediction of future anthropogenically mediated greenhouse conditions,” she said.
Whiteside earned her Ph.D. with distinction from Columbia University in 2006, and is a magna cum laude graduate from Mount Holyoke College (2001).
– Tracie Sweeney
Ben Wieland comes to Brown from the University of Chicago, where he received his doctorate in mathematics this last June. His thesis was titled Pullback Conjectures for the Stable Automorphism Groups of Free Groups.
As a 2000 Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Wieland received the Jon A. Bucsela Prize in mathematics. That award is given in recognition of distinguished scholastic achievement, professional promise and enthusiasm for mathematics. In 2000, Wieland interned with the theory group of Microsoft Research. While an MIT undergraduate, he participated in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates, and in MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, working in the tiling group and on toric geometry.
Wieland is the co-author of several articles, including “Plethystic Algebra” (with James Borger in 2005), “Winding Angle Variance of Fortuin-Kasteleyn Contours” (with David B. Wilson in 2003), and “On the Domination Number of a Random Graph” (with Anant P. Godbole in 2001). He has given several talks, including “Weiss’s Taylor Tower in the Manifold Case, Part I,” presented in March 2004 as part of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft on the calculus of functors at the Mathematisches Forschungsinstitute Oberwolfach in Germany.
Mike Wyatt has been studying Mars for close to a decade. He’s been thinking about space and rocks ever since he was a kid. “I was always interested in space,” he says, “I guess I never grew out of it.”
He applied to be an astronaut but had to settle for working with NASA on the Mars Global Surveyor and the MERS (Mars Exploration Rovers) “Spirit” and “Opportunity,” still wheeling their way around the red planet’s surface. He was a NASA Graduate Student Researcher Fellow from 2000 to 2002 and received a NASA Group Achievement Award for 2001 Odyssey THEMIS in 2003 and a NASA Group Achievement Award for Mars Exploration Rovers in 2004.
Wyatt’s research interests span Mars geology and volatile history, the origin and evolution of igneous rocks, the identification and classification of surface compositions, and chemical and physical weathering effects from surface-water/ice interactions.
He also uses remote sensing (thermal-infrared, near-infrared, visible) to study terrestrial and other planetary surfaces and laboratory and field ground-truth studies of terrestrial materials as mineral and chemical analogs for Mars.
And while he hasn’t been to space, his analog studies have taken him far and wide across the earth’s surface – from Antarctica to the Atacama, a desert in Chile. “Both [those] places on earth are extremely dry,” he says. “If we can understand these on earth, we can better understand Mars.”
He’s lived in tents in extreme hot and extreme cold; on earth time – and, for 90 days at the Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena – on Mars. Now he’s excited to settle down in the geology department, working with new colleagues including Carle Pieters and Jack Mustard, whose CRISM is set to hit mapping orbit in October and start sending back data.
– Molly de Ramel
Rashid Zia studies optical physics – the way light interacts with matter – and its applications through electrical engineering.
Zia is in the hunt for efficient light emitters. Think of the light bulb. A typical bulb contains a tungsten filament that emits light, but also produces heat. More efficient are LEDs – light-emitting diodes – which use semiconductors that produce less heat. Such semiconductor LEDs often produce only a single color of light, such as blue. To create white light, small phosphors are used to convert some of this blue light into other colors of the spectrum, such as red or green.
Looking at novel light matter interactions that occur at atomic scales, Zia studies ways to make these phosphors more efficient and to change the range of colors they emit. His current research focuses on the unique optical properties of nanostructured materials. He is investigating a new method to enhance light emission from atomic gases and organic molecules with the goal of using them to enable the next generation of light sources.
Zia received his A.B. in English and American literature and an Sc.B. in engineering from Brown in 2001. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford in 2006. While at Stanford, Zia investigated the propagation of light along metal wires like those found on semiconductor chips. For the last six months, Zia was a postdoctoral researcher at the Laboratoire de Physique de l’Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, France.
In the spring, Zia will teach a course in computational electromagnetics that will introduce numerical techniques for solving practical and theoretical problems in optical science. “A lot of physics and engineering is mathematics based,” he said. Nowadays, with computer programs like MatLab and Mathematica, students are able to perform analytical mathematics with greater ease, “making a lot of concepts that were otherwise inaccessible more student-friendly,” Zia said. In the classroom, that’s his goal. “All you can do is try to excite a student’s imagination about a topic.”
– Tracie Sweeney