Penn State Researchers Receive 2009 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers

The White House announced today (July 9) that four Penn State researchers will receive 2009 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

Sean Hallgren and Adam D. Smith, both assistant professors in computer science and engineering; Michael A. Hickner, assistant professor of material science and engineering, and Susan E. Parks, assistant professor of acoustics and research associate, Applied Research Laboratory where among 100 named by the White House to receive this highest honor presented to beginning scientists or engineers in the U.S. They will be recognized at a future ceremony at the White House.

The PECASE program was established in 1996 to identify and honor outstanding researchers who are beginning their independent research careers, and to provide recognition of their potential for leadership across the frontiers of scientific knowledge during the 21st century. Recipients are nominated by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, Energy, Agriculture, Education, Commerce, Veterans Affairs.

The NSF nominated two of Penn State's recipients, Hallgren and Smith, from the recipients of NSF's 2008 Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) awards. NSF nominates 20 of the PECASE recipients.

Hallgren works in the area of quantum computation, which aims to use quantum mechanical systems for computation. Quantum computers can break widely used cryptosystems, including those used to protect e-commerce transactions. His work aims to find new applications for quantum computers and to determine which cryptosystems are secure against them.

Smith studies cryptography and information privacy and their connection to such diverse fields as quantum mechanics, combinatorics, information theory and statistics. He looks at preserving privacy in the publication of statistical data, cryptography based on noisy secrets and quantum cryptography. His CAREER award focuses on the problems stemming from conflicts between data access and privacy in collections of personal and sensitive data such as census surveys, social networks and public health data. His work addresses the need for formal privacy guarantees that remain meaningful even against an intruder with partial knowledge of the sensitive data.

Hickner and Parks were among the 41 recipients nominated by the Department of Defense.

Hickner's research interests include polymer chemistry, polymer micro- and nano-structure, transport characterization, electrochemistry and new materials for energy applications. His work is motivated by application-specific needs that drive fundamental investigations into new materials chemistry and demand incisive measurements of the structure and transport properties of novel materials. He characterizes technologically important materials and synthesizes model materials systems to probe specific structural and property questions.

Parks' primary research interest is in bioacoustics, integrating the fields of biological oceanography, behavioral ecology and physiology to address questions related to acoustic communication. She studies the use of sound for communication, hearing abilities, and the impacts of noise on both sound production and reception. Her current research focuses on the use of sound by the North Atlantic right whale, studying behavioral aspects of sound production, perceptual abilities and impacts of noise on acoustic communication.

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