Six University professors have been named Sloan Research Fellows for 2017. The Sloan Research Fellowships are two-year, $60,000 fellowships awarded to researchers by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation “in recognition of distinguished performance and a unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field”.
Past University affiliated recipients include John Nash and Richard Feynman, both of whom went on to win Nobel Prizes in their respective fields. According to the foundation website, 226 University affiliated individuals have received the Sloan Fellowship as of 2017.
This year’s recipients are Dr. Amir Ali Ahmadi, assistant professor in the Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering; Dr. Han Liu, also an assistant professor in the ORFE department; Dr. Nicholas Sheridan, assistant professor in mathematics; Dr. Nathalie de Leon, assistant professor in electrical engineering; Dr. Matthew Kunz, assistant professor of astrophysical sciences; and Dr. Silviu Pufu, professor of physics.
Ahmadi’s line of research focuses on the “intersection of optimization and computer science.” The specific problems that he addresses in his work are polynomial optimization problems.
“It’s quite tricky to understand which subclasses can be solved with computers and algorithms,” Ahmadi said. “A lot of my work is to draw this boundary.”
One practical application of polynomial optimization problems specifically includes finding optimal locations for buildings.
Although Ahmadi is affiliated with the ORFE department, he received a fellowship in computer science for the lack of a specific category dedicated to ORFE. He expressed gratitude that “people outside of [his] immediate field also recognized [his] work as of high quality and importance.”
Kunz expressed honor at being named a recipient of the fellowship. Kunz received the fellowship for his work in astrophysics. Some of the problems that he and the students he oversees are working on include “why astrophysical systems have the magnetic field strengths that they do and investigating turbulence in solar winds,” according to Kunz.
He noted that one of the best aspects of the Sloan Fellowship is that the usage of money is not as restricted as it can be with other grants.
“The Sloan Fellowship doesn’t fund one project directly, but enables flexibility in each one of them,” Kunz said. He noted the example of purchasing a powerful computer needed for simulations that might otherwise not be approved for purchase.
De Leon’s research group focuses on materials science, an interdisciplinary field that brings together chemists, chemical engineers, physicists and electrical engineers in her lab. De Leon said her broad research program is working on quantum technology with color centers in diamonds.
“Working in this category involves a lot of surface science and materials chemistry, but on the other side of it there’s a lot of optics and quantum control techniques for learning how to control and manipulate these color centers,” she said.
Sheridan’s research in mathematics focuses on two types of geometry: “algebraic geometry, which has a long history going back to the Greeks' work on conic sections; and symplectic geometry, which has its origins in celestial mechanics.” With his work, Sheridan hopes to answer difficult questions about symplectic geometry “by translating them into easier questions about algebraic geometry.”
In an email, Sheridan said that he is “very honored and excited” about the fellowship and said he immediately “Skyped with [his] parents back in Australia to tell them.”
Liu is affiliated with the Statistical Machine Learning Lab. Liu’s work focuses on a developing new field of theoretical science within called combinatorial interference, which studies both “informational complexity (amount of data) and computational complexity (running time).” In an email, he said that “success on this research will lead to a new generation of high impact applications, including computational neuroscience, genomics, finance, and social networks”.
Pufu is an assistant professor in the physics department whose work focuses on the field of high energy theory. He received his undergraduate degree in physics from the University in 2007 and his Ph.D degree in 2011.
Pufu did not respond to request for comment.