April 2, 2009
Vol. 28 No. 13

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    Five on University faculty at frontiers of their fields are named Sloan fellows

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has selected five University scholars to receive 2009 Sloan research fellowships. One Sloan fellow also has garnered a 2008 National Science Foundation CAREER award, while two additional faculty members have earned other federal research awards.

    Among the 118 scholars named Sloan research fellows from North American colleges and universities are Florencia Canelli, Assistant Professor in Physics and the College; Mathias Drton, Assistant Professor in Statistics and the College; Matthew Gentzkow, Associate Professor in Economics and a Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow at Chicago Booth; Luis Silvestre, Assistant Professor in Mathematics and the College; and Dmitri Talapin, Assistant Professor in Chemistry and the College.

    Two mathematics alumni also received 2009 Sloan fellowships: Justin Holmer (Ph.D.,’04), assistant professor of mathematics at Brown University; and Dan Margalit (Ph.D.,’03), assistant professor of mathematics at Tufts University.

    Sloan fellowships support the work of exceptional young researchers who work at the frontiers of physics, chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics and neuroscience. Each fellowship includes a $50,000 grant.

    A high-energy physicist, Canelli focuses her research on the top quark, the most massive subatomic particle known to exist, and the Higgs boson, a particle predicted to generate the mass of all other particles.

    Drton is developing theory and methods for graphical statistical models. Associated with graphs in which nodes represent observed variables, graphical models allow for data-driven inference of networks that represent associations between variables of interest.

    Augmenting his Sloan fellowship is a $400,000 Faculty Early Career Development grant from the National Science Foundation for a related study titled “Statistical Inference in Algebraic Models with Singularities.” Career grants are the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars.

    Gentzkow becomes the sixth current member of the Chicago Booth faculty to receive a Sloan research fellowship. He studies empirical industrial organization, with a focus on media industries. He collaborates on much of his research with Jesse Shapiro, Assistant Professor in Economics at Chicago Booth.

    Silvestre concentrates on partial differential equations, which several scientific fields use as mathematical tools. The equations can be used to predict the shape of an elastic membrane subject to certain constraints, the diffusion of temperature in a body or the value of an option in the stock market.

    Talapin specializes in the chemistry, physics and materials science of inorganic nanostructures. His research group creates novel materials for electronic, photovoltaic, thermoelectric and catalytic applications.

    Joining Drton as federal award recipients are Greg Engel, Assistant Professor in Chemistry and the College; and Robin Santra, a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory and part-time Associate Professor in Physics.

    Engel was one of 39 scientists and engineers who submitted a winning research proposal to the Air Force’s Young Investigator Research Program. The program is open to scientists and engineers at U.S. research institutions who have received a Ph.D. or equivalent degrees in the last five years and who show exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research.

    Engel’s $300,000 grant will support his research on harnessing solar power using a novel strategy for the design of photocatalysts.

    Santra is among 68 researchers who have received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Nine federal departments and agencies support the award, which will provide Santra with $250,000 in research funding over the next five years.

    The award is the highest honor the U.S. government bestows upon outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent careers. Santra was recognized for theoretical contributions to the field of atomic, molecular and optical science in the areas of high-order harmonic generation and strong-field absorption and ionization, and for the scientific mentoring of students and members of the public.