Three Penn Professors Receive National Science Foundation Awards


PHILADELPHIA -- Three professors in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science have received National Science Foundation Career Awards for junior investigators. The awards recognize and support the early career-development activities of teacher/scholars.

Penn’s 2010 award winners are:

Prashant Purohit, assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics.

Purohit conducts his research at the interface of mechanics, physics and biology. Using the Kirchhoff theory of filaments, he is able to describe the behavior of DNA at small length scales and analyze its implications on the life cycle of viruses and the switching on and off of genes. He studies the effect of thermal fluctuations or entropy and is also interested in applications of the mechanics of lipid membranes to cellular organelles and the mechanics of material interfaces in slender bodies to micro-scale propulsion.

Ani Nenkova, assistant professor in the department of computer and information science.

Nenkova works in natural language processing, focusing on automatic summarization, text generation, discourse and prosody. She is addressing the increasing need for intelligent summarization systems brought on by the proliferation of textual information in electronic form. Her research has addressed challenges in summarization, including identifying important content to include in the summary, automatic revision of human written text to better fit in the new context of the summary and automatic identification of inputs that current systems handle poorly.

Andrew Tsourkas, assistant professor in the department of bioengineering.

Tsourkas' research is focused on developing nanosensors that can be used to non-invasively image molecular markers of disease in a clinical setting. These imaging agents will allow for more informed diagnoses, detect diseases at an earlier stage and provide a mechanism to quantify therapeutic response. His research group has developed fluorescent probes for imaging RNA, bioluminescent probes for imaging apoptosis and proliferation and magnetic nanoparticles for imaging cell surface receptor expression.