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At Rensselaer—Milestones

Photo by Thomas Griffin

Two renowned scientists, (l-r) mathematician Michael Zuker and computer scientist Charles ''Chip" Lawrence '67, will lead Rensselaer's new research constellation in bioinformatics.

A constellation, at Rensselaer, is a multidisciplinary team of senior faculty, junior faculty, and graduate students led by one or two outstanding stars in a particular research field.

The newly created constellation in bioinformatics underscores Rensselaer's commitment to research excellence in two major areas: biotechnology and information technology. That commitment was made official in May when the Board of Trustees approved the "Rensselaer Plan," a detailed statement of Institute objectives under the leadership of President Shirley Ann Jackson.

Zuker comes to Rensselaer from Washington University's School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he has served as an associate professor of biomedical computing. Zuker earned his doctorate in mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lawrence has joint appointments as research professor of computer science at Rensselaer and as chief of the Biometrics Lab at the Wadsworth Center in Albany. The Wadsworth Center is the public health research laboratory of the New York State Department of Health. Lawrence received a bachelor's degree in physics from Rensselaer and a doctorate in applied operations research and statistics from Cornell University. Lawrence will maintain joint appointments at both the Wadsworth Center and Rensselaer.

Led by Zuker and Lawrence, the constellation in bioinformatics will include John Salerno, professor and chair of biology, and director of Rensselaer’s bioinformatics program; Chris Bystroff, assistant professor of biology; Wilfredo Colon, assistant professor of chemistry; Mark Wentland, professor of chemistry; Mohammed Zaki, assistant professor of computer science; and others.

By linking biology with information technology, bioinformatics allows scientists to quickly analyze huge amounts of data that flow from modern biological research, such as the Human Genome Project. By designing and using sophisticated computer algorithms, specialists in bioinformatics create and search great storehouses of data to find elusive pieces of the puzzles whose solutions will advance our understanding of birth defects, promote the discovery of new medicines, foster the design of disease-resistant crops, protect endangered species, and further our understanding of the genetic code.

Zuker's research has focused on the development of algorithms for nucleic acid secondary-structure prediction and for nucleic acid and protein sequence analysis. He has created one of the world’s most popular Web sites for bioinformatics, including a World Wide Web server that predicts structure for RNA and DNA sequences that are entered by users. The server registers as many as 15,000 hits each month.

Lawrence's research deals with statistical models in molecular and structural biology. Specifically, he works in the identification and characterization of gene regulatory elements, multiple sequence alignment, and protein structure prediction. Last month, the International Society for Bayesian Analysis awarded Lawrence and his co-authors the distinguished Mitchell 2000 prize for their outstanding paper “Markovian Structures in Biological Sequence Alignments.”

Lester Gerhardt, associate dean of engineering, has been named a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education. The ASEE chooses its fellows in recognition of outstanding contributions to engineering education or engineering technology education. Gerhardt was one of only nine fellows selected nationwide this year. His work includes methods for analyzing and modeling adaptive systems, pattern recognition, and digital signal processing. He holds several patents, the most recent of which is a vision tracking system that allows physically challenged people to speak with their eyes. Gerhardt won the Inventor of the Year Award in New York state in 1997. He earned his bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering from the City College of New York and his master’s and doctorate in electrical engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He also holds an honorary doctorate from the Technical University of Denmark. Gerhardt joined the Rensselaer faculty in 1970, and chaired the department of electrical, computer, and systems engineering for 11 years. In addition to the ASEE, Gerhardt is a member and fellow of IEEE.

Richard Hartt ’70 received the 2000 Pillars of Rensselaer Award, the highest honor given to a member of the Institute’s staff. Hartt, director of the Rensselaer Union, mentors student leaders in their role as managers of the Union’s resources. As a student development advocate, Hartt says he “works with students as they go through the maturing process at Rensselaer.” Hartt, a member of the Rensselaer staff for 22 years, was instrumental in the late 1980s in the launching of the Archer Center for Student Leadership Development, designed to offer students at all levels opportunities to enhance their leadership skills, including communication skills, teamwork, multiculturalism, values, ethics, and self-awareness. Hartt rejoined the university in 1978 as director of student activities.

Georges Belfort, professor of chemical engineering, is the recipient of the Clarence G. Gerhold Award. The American Institute of Chemical Engineers issues the annual award in recognition of an individual’s outstanding contribution in research, development, or in the application of chemical separations technology. A renowned authority on separations science and a Rensselaer faculty member since 1978, Belfort has received the 1995 American Chemical Society Award, and was elected a fellow of the American Institute for Medical & Biological Engineering in 1994. He holds five patents.

Daniel Walczyk, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, aeronautical engineering and mechanics, was selected by the Society of Automotive Engineers as one of 14 outstanding educators to participate in SAE’s 2000 Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award Program. In addition to receiving a plaque and two years of complimentary membership in SAE, Walczyk will be the organization’s guest at its 2000 World Aviation Congress & Exposition, Oct. 10-12, in San Diego, Calif., where he will discuss common technical interests with practicing engineers from aerospace companies.

Mary Good, Rensselaer trustee, is one of five recipients of the 1999 Heinz Awards. Good received the Heinz Award in Technology, the Economy, and Employment for "her singular vision in working to build an economy fueled by scientific knowledge and technological know-how." Good is a managing member for Venture Capital Investors. Previously, she served four years as the Under Secretary for Technology for the Technology Administration in the Department of Commerce. Good is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a past president of the American Chemical Society, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the American Institute of Chemists and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Roger Grice, clinical assistant professor of language, literature, and communication, is this year's recipient of the David M. Darrin Counseling Award. Selection of the award recipient is made by Phalanx, the student leadership honorary society, based on nominations received from students. According to Phalanx, Grice was selected for his commitment to graduate and undergraduate students inside and outside of the classroom. Grice also serves as chapter adviser to fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha. The award was established by David M. Darrin '40 to recognize a faculty member who has made an unusual contribution in the counseling of students.


Gwo-Ching Wang has been named chair of the Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy. Wang received her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1978. She joined the Rensselaer faculty as an associate professor in 1984 after working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She was promoted to professor in 1991. Wang's research involves the physics of surfaces and interfaces.


James McKim '90 received the Rensselaer Alumni Association (RAA) Teaching Award in June. The recognition of McKim, clinical professor and chair of computer and information sciences at Rensselaer at Hartford, marks the first time a Rensselaer professor from the Hartford campus has been selected for the award. He joined the faculty of Rensselaer at Hartford in 1988 and became chair of the department of computer and information sciences in 1998. McKim earned a master's in computer science from Rensselaer in 1990. The RAA Teaching Award recognizes current members of the Rensselaer faculty for outstanding teaching techniques, contributions to the campus experience, and commitment to students.


James "Chip" Kilduff, Kodak Assistant Professor in Environmental Engineering, was awarded a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation. The grant, aimed at young faculty members actively engaged in research and education, is one of the NSF's most competitive and prestigious awards. Kilduff, who has been a Rensselaer faculty member since 1996, received a $200,000 four-year grant to study the application of membrane and adsorption processes to potable water and industrial wastewater treatment. He also plans to develop a new membrane processes course, which will focus on environmental applications and promote active student involvement through lab work, studio classrooms, and hands-on experimentation.


Nimai Chand Mukhopadhyay, professor of physics, applied physics, and astronomy, died May 15 after a long battle with cancer. He was 58. Mukhopadhyay was born in Maharampur (a small village outside of Calcutta), India, and lived in the United States for the last 18 years. He was a distinguished nuclear physicist with a wide international reputation. He received a B.S. from the University of Calcutta and S.M. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Chicago in theoretical nuclear physics. After several years as a research scientist at the University of Maryland and the Swiss Institute for Nuclear Research, in 1981, he became a professor in the Physics Department at Rensselaer. During his career, Mukhopadhyay established a worldwide reputation for his expertise in nuclear and particle theory. He was often invited to give lectures at conferences and held numerous appointments as a visiting professor at universities and national laboratories around the world. In 1993, he was elected fellow of the American Physical Society in recognition of his seminal contributions in the field of nuclear physics. In 1997, he was the recipient of the Humboldt Senior Scientist Prize from Germany; and in 1999, he received Rensselaer's William H. Wiley Distinguished Faculty Award. "As teacher and mentor he demanded and brought out the best in his students," said Leo Schowalter, chair of physics at the time of Mukhopadhyay's death. "He will be remembered with great affection by his colleagues as one who loved and practiced scholarship with much reverence and enthusiasm. Unfortunately for all of us, he passed away at the height of his career."


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