Three Penn Researchers Awarded Sloan Fellowships

Three University of Pennsylvania faculty members are among this year’s Sloan Fellowship recipients. Since 1955, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has granted yearly fellowships to early-career scientists and scholars whose achievements and potential identify them the next generation of scientific leaders.

Penn’s 2014 Sloan Fellows are:

Danielle S. Bassett, assistant professor of bioengineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science — Bassett’s laboratory uses tools from complex systems and network science to study the structure and dynamics of the human brain at the level of large-scale neural circuitry. Akin to social networks in Facebook and Twitter, regions of the brain form a network of mutually interconnected components that process, transmit and store information. The end goals are to identify organizational principles, to develop novel diagnostics of disease and to design personalized therapeutics for rehabilitation and treatment of brain injury, neurological disease and psychiatric disorders.

Chris Callison-Burch, assistant professor of computer and information science, School of Engineering and Applied Science — Understanding the shared meaning between certain expressions comes naturally to humans but remains a major challenge for machines. To a computer, the phrases “thrown in jail” and “locked up” have nothing in common, so Callison-Burch and his colleagues are developing a database of phrase pairs to be used as the basis for algorithms that understand human language. Gleaned from documents ranging from scientific abstracts to movie dialog that have been translated from one language to another, this database could help computers better understand different linguistic contexts and converse with people in a more natural way.

Alison Sweeney, assistant professor of physics, School of Arts and Sciences — Sweeny is trained as a biologist but works in Penn’s Department of Physics and Astronomy as part of the School of Arts and Sciences’ Evolution Cluster. She studies a reflective protein that squid, giant clams and other sea life have put to a variety of uses, such as for camouflage or for growing symbiotic algae within their bodies. Her research is focused on the interplay between the physics of the biological structures formed with this protein and the role they play in animals’ evolutionary history. 

“For more than half a century, the Sloan Foundation has been proud to honor the best young scientific minds and support them during a crucial phase of their careers when early funding and recognition can really make a difference,” said Paul L. Joskow, president of the Foundation. “These researchers are pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge in unprecedented ways.”

To qualify, candidates must be nominated by their peers and selected by an independent panel of senior scholars. Each Fellow receives a two-year, $50,000 award to further his or her research.

Story Photo