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February 18, 2010

Three UW faculty among this year’s Sloan Research Fellows

Three UW faculty members are among 118 recipients of Sloan Research Fellowships, given by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The awardees represent 56 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. According to the foundation, the fellowships “seek to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise.” They are awarded in recognition of fellows’ distinguished performance and the potential to make substantial contributions to their field. The UW fellows are:

Luis Ceze, assistant professor of computer science & engineering, comes to the UW from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, where he earned his doctorate in 2007. His research focuses on making it easier to write performing, reliable programs for parallel computer systems. “There is a big sea change in what is inside laptops, data-center nodes, and even cell phones,” Ceze explains. “They are all becoming parallel computers. That means that software writers have to write parallel programs to take advantage of new hardware.” This, he said is a daunting task because concurrency is hard. His goal is to address the challenge by “innovating across the boundaries of computer architecture, operating system, compiler, and programming languages. ”

Max Lieblich, who earned his doctorate at MIT, is in his first year at the UW. An assistant professor of mathematics, he specializes in algebraic geometry. Modern techniques, Lieblich said, allow mathematicians to find “hidden geometry” in classical problems. For example, one can write down a formula for all of the right triangles whose side lengths are integers. This was famously done by Euclid. From a modern perspective one can carry out this enumeration very simply using the geometry of a circle; the key fact is that a line in a plane generally intersects a circle in that plane in exactly two points. “I focus a lot of my attention on what are known as ‘moduli spaces’ and how one can use their geometry to study classical problems in algebra, geometry, and arithmetic,” Lieblich said.

Christine Luscombe, who has been at the UW since 2006, is an assistant professor of materials science & engineering. Her research centers around making a special class of polymers which absorb light and conduct electricity. In particular, she is developing “better methods to make the polymers with accurate control over their shape and size, with the ultimate goal of obtaining precise control over how the polymers interact with light.” This, she said, could lead to the development of cheaper and more flexible electronic devices in the future, such as solar cells which can replace existing traditional silicon solar cells, making solar cells more amenable to widespread use. Luscombe earned her doctorate at the University of Cambridge in England.

The Sloan Research Fellowships have been awarded since 1955, initially in only three scientific fields: physics, chemistry and mathematics. Since then, 38 Sloan Research Fellows have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in their fields; 57 have received the National Medal of Science and 14 have received the Fields Medal, the top honor in mathematics. Although Sloan Research Fellowships in economics only began in 1983, Sloan Fellows have subsequently accounted for 9 of the 14 winners of the John Bates Clark Medal, generally considered the top honor for young economists.

The fellowships include a grant of $50,000 over a two-year period. Once chosen, Sloan Research Fellows are free to pursue whatever lines of inquiry are of most interest to them, and they are permitted to employ Fellowship funds in a wide variety of ways to further their research aims.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grant-making institution that supports original research and broad-based education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economic performance. For more information visit