UW News

February 18, 2016

Three UW professors win Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

David Masiello, Shwetak Patel, Luke Zettlemoyer (left to right)

David Masiello, Shwetak Patel, Luke Zettlemoyer (left to right)

Three University of Washington professors have received the 2016 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor given by the U.S. government to early career scientists and engineers.

David Masiello, an assistant professor of chemistry and adjunct assistant professor of applied mathematics; Shwetak Patel, the Washington Research Foundation Entrepreneurship Endowed Professor in Computer Science and Engineering and Electrical Engineering; and Luke Zettlemoyer, associate professor of computer science and engineering, were among the 105 recipients announced by the White House Thursday.

Awardees are selected for their “pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach,” according to a White House release. The awards will be presented at a White House ceremony, and each recipient will receive up to five years of federal research funding.

Masiello was nominated by the National Science Foundation for “his cutting-edge research in the emerging field of theoretical molecular nanophotonics, and for his comprehensive educational and outreach programs including an exemplary focus on enhancing the scientific communication abilities of young researchers.” Masiello’s research group builds theoretical and computational tools to understand the optical, magnetic, electronic, and thermal properties of nanoscale materials.

Patel, a nationally recognized expert in sensor systems research who directs the UW’s UbiComp Lab and focuses on sensing systems, energy and water sensing, mobile health and developing new interaction technologies, was also nominated by the National Science Foundation. He was cited for “inventing low-cost, easy-to-deploy sensor systems that leverage existing infrastructures to enable users to track household energy consumption and make the buildings we live in more responsive to our needs.”

Zettlemoyer’s research explores the intersection of natural language processing, machine learning and decision making under uncertainty – with a particular emphasis on designing learning algorithms for recovering representations of the meaning of natural language text. In his nomination from the U.S. Department of Defense, the agency cited “his outstanding research accomplishments in computational semantics, in particular for innovative new machine-learning approaches for problems in natural language understanding” that “have the potential to completely revolutionize how we retrieve information and interact with computers.”

James Thorson

James Thorson

Additionally, James Thorson, operations research analyst with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and an affiliate professor in the UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, is also a recipient of the early career award.

Thorson, who teaches an upper-level fisheries course, conducts research on spatial variation in fish population density and productivity, and spatio-temporal dynamics for marine ecosystems including the potential impacts of climate change. He received his doctorate from the UW, where he worked with professor and school director Andre Punt. Thorson was nominated for the award by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Twelve federal departments or agencies nominate young scientists and engineers from across the country whose “early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions.” The final awards, first established by President Bill Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President.

“These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people.”