R&D Stars To Watch

These researchers and engineers continue to push the boundaries of technological and scientific achievement.

  • Douglas E. Adams, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. Adams' use of sonar-like signals to detect when structures and mechanical parts -- such as those used in weapons systems and aircraft -- are about to fail helped earn him a 2001 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He is working to develop "smart structures" that use sensors, actuators and processors to prevent catastrophic failures in parts that are difficult to inspect via conventional methods. Such parts include those made of advanced composites.
  • Jeffrey Brinker, senior scientist, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, N.M., and professor of chemical and nuclear engineering and chemistry, University of New Mexico. Brinker's development of materials that mimic the structure of abalone sea shells has made it possible to build tough yet lightweight structures or coatings that can resist cracking due to their inherent microstructures. His work has helped make possible the commercial production of aerogels, extremely light materials penetrated by tunnels, and the development of aerogel films, which show promise as coatings for future generations of microelectronic devices. In September he received the Department of Energy's E.O. Lawrence award for his innovations in nanostructured materials.
  • Stephen K. Burley, chief scientific officer, senior vice president of research and development, Structural GenomiX Inc., San Diego. Some academic eyebrows were raised when Burley was lured from positions as head of the Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics at The Rockefeller University and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to join Structural GenomiX (SGX), a start-up biotechnology company involved in drug discovery. SGX, launched in 1999, has tapped the talents of an acclaimed researcher who has published extensively in the areas of structural biology and biochemistry. Burley also holds a degree in medicine. Burley founded Prospect Genomics Inc., a company that was acquired by SGX last year.
  • John M. Butler, research chemist, biotechnology division, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Md. A 2001 recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, Butler was recognized for his contributions to DNA typing for forensics and human identification, and developing advanced techniques for high-throughput analysis of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome markers. He designed and built STRBase -- a comprehensive, Internet-accessible database on STR (short tandem repeat) markers used for human identity testing. Butler also is the author of "Forensic DNA Typing: Biology and Technology Behind STR Markers" (2001, Academic Press).
  • Harsh Deep Chopra, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, State University of New York at Buffalo, and Susan Hua, director of the university's Bio-Micro-Electro-Mechanical-Systems Facility. Supercomputing devices the size of a wristwatch may eventually result from research being done by materials researchers Chopra and Hua. They have developed a magnetic sensor made of nickel and measuring just a few atoms in diameter that could increase data storage capacity by a factor of 1,000 or more. Their research, a breakthrough in electrical resistance, addresses the challenge presented as stored bits of data get smaller and their magnetic fields weaken, resulting in data that is harder to detect and read.
  • M. Raymond Flannery, physics professor, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. A theoretical physicist, Flannery earned the 2001 Sir David Bates Prize from the Institute of Physics, London, for his contributions to theoretical atomic physics, in particular for "his studies of recombination processes with applications to astrophysics and plasma physics." Other notable accolades include receipt of the Will Allis Prize from the American Physical Society in 1998 for his study of ionized gases. Flannery's research into how electrons, ions and atoms move, collide and combine to form new atoms and molecules, as well as more than 100 research papers, have helped define the modern understanding of atomic and molecular physics.
  • Richard P. Gabriel, distinguished engineer, Sun Microsystems Inc., Santa Clara, Calif. Gabriel may be Sun Microsystems' open source expert, but his endeavors range far and wide, encompassing poetry and rock and roll. He leads the Feyerabend Project, whose goal is to "fix" the arena of software development from the ground up. Gabriel contends that programming languages are flawed in part because they were developed initially with the belief that computing would solely be for scientific and engineering applications, and because they are not robust enough for the requirements placed upon them. Except for some mathematical and philosophical fundamentals, the Feyerabend Project proposes that software development needs to "start over."
  • Bernd Girod, professor of electrical engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. An educator with an entrepreneurial spirit, Girod has worked with several start-up firms as founder, investor, director or adviser. Among his start-up ventures was Vivo Software, where he was chief scientist as well as a founder. He has been chief scientist of RealNetworks Inc., Seattle, since 1998 when it acquired Vivo, and is an outside director of 8x8 Inc., Santa Clara, Calif. Girod's research interests include networked multimedia systems, video signal compression and 3-D image analysis and synthesis.
  • Karl Gross, staff member, Analytical Materials Science at Sandia National Laboratories, Livermore, Calif. For his research in fuel-cell technology, Gross was awarded the Young Investigator award from the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Office of Power Technologies. His research focuses on developing lightweight hydride materials for hydrogen fuel-cell powered vehicles. Fuel cells combine hydrogen with oxygen to form water, thus generating pollution-free electricity. Hydrides, metallic alloys that can absorb hydrogen, offer attractive on-board vehicle storage.
  • Andrew Heafitz, graduate student, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. Notable inventions by this doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering are a low-cost, kerosene-liquid oxygen rocket engine and an aerial surveillance system designed for the U.S. Army. To develop the new rocket camera system, Heafitz combined two innovations of his: a remote aerial photography platform and a balsa wood, motor-driven rocket camera that he built while in high school and for which he holds a patent. The soda-can sized system transmits aerial reconnaissance pictures to a laptop computer. In March 2002 Heafitz won the eighth annual Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for invention and innovation.
  • Caroline Kovac, general manager, IBM Life Sciences, Somers, N.Y. Responsibility for IBM's overall strategy for life sciences, including developing partnerships and directing the company's investments in the life-sciences market, rests with Kovac, who launched IBM Life Sciences in 2000. This division spearheads the development of IT solutions for the life-sciences market, which includes the biotechnology, genomic, e-health, pharmaceutical and agri-science industries. IBM Life Sciences has become one of the company's most successful new businesses. Earlier this year Kovac was elected to the 2002 Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.
  • Mow Lin, chemist, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, N.Y. Lin and retired natural products chemist Eugene Premuzic have been awarded a U.S. patent for their coal-chomping bacteria. The bacteria can remove potentially harmful pollutants from carbon-rich materials and yield more-efficient, cleaner-burning coal. One of the problems with using coal as an energy source is the release of toxins. Attempts have been made to send in microbes to purify the coal during processing, but harsh conditions rendered them useless. Lin and Premuzic trained bacteria that was naturally adapted to extreme conditions to feed on the toxins. The "challenge biosynthesis nutritional stressing" resulted in newly evolved bacteria from the species Leptospirillum ferrooxidans and Thiobacillus ferrooxidans.
  • Eric K. Lin, physical scientist, polymers division, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Md. Lin received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for devising ways to measure characteristics of polymer films critical to their use in advanced electronics applications and for his insight into the properties of polymers at nanoscale dimensions. The award is the highest honor given by the U.S. government to young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers. Lin has been honored with several other awards including the NIST Slichter Award in 2001, which recognizes outstanding achievements by NIST staff in building or strengthening ties between NIST and industry.
  • Andrzej Rajca, professor of chemistry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Rajca and his team, wife Suchada Rajca and Jirawat Wongsriratanakul, discovered the world's first plastic magnet. With help from the National Science Foundation and support from the University of Nebraska's Center for Materials Research and Analysis, the team revealed that it is possible to make a magnetic organic polymer by making larger and larger molecules with different arrangements of unpaired electrons. Polymers are large, chainlike molecules that consist of repeated linked units of small molecules. An organic polymer is carbon-based and therefore is essentially a plastic magnet, no metal required.
  • Daniela Rus, associate professor of computer science and cognitive neuroscience, Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H. A computer scientist and founder of the Dartmouth Robotics Laboratory, Rus' research spans abstract aspects of information processing to the practical aspects of self-reconfiguring robots, which could be used in situations where possible obstacles or constraints could never be fully anticipated in preprogrammed software. In September she was named a MacArthur Fellow, a program whose criteria for selection includes "promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment . . ."
  • Perry Sandstrom, instrument innovator, Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics, Madison, Wis.; instrument engineer at Able Signal LLC. Sandstrom's invention, the SynchroGene Reader, has earned him money, applause from peers and the Wallace H. Coulter Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2001. The SynchroGene offers a new way to analyze DNA chips. A self-contained instrument, the device provides numeric "scores" for selected gene sites within a DNA chip's probe array. Touted as the first random-access reader, it constitutes a digital interface between computers and the genomes of living organisms.
  • Koichi Tanaka, life sciences laboratory assistant manager, Shimadzu Corp., Kyoto, Japan. In October at the tender age of 43, engineer Tanaka received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with fellow recipients John B. Fenn and Kurt Wthrich for developing techniques that aid in the study of biological macromolecules -- proteins, for example. Mass spectrometry, an important analytical method in chemistry labs, had previously only been able to identify fairly small molecules. The ability to study large molecules has aided in the development of new pharmaceuticals and shows promising applications in the early diagnosis of some cancers. In addition to his relative youth, Tanaka stands out among Nobel winners due to his work as a corporate researcher rather than one in academia.
  • Bert Vogelstein, professor of oncology, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore. Bacteria may someday join the fight against tumors if research by Vogelstein and colleagues on mice translates to treatment suitable for people. They have developed a three-pronged therapy that includes a bacterium that selectively targets large, advanced tumors on mice. The therapy may help overcome obstacles that prevent chemotherapy and radiation from fully destroying cancer cells.
  • Minerva M. Yeung, principal engineer and research manager, Media and Internet Technology, Microprocessor Research Labs, Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif. Yeung, an electrical engineer, leads a team of researchers working on the next generation of digital media technology and Internet multimedia infrastructure, and participates in Intel software labs' large-scale media software development efforts. A frequent guest speaker, she holds more than 15 patents and has co-authored in excess of 35 technical papers. Her team at Intel has won two divisional awards for innovative technical contributions.
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