Sloan Research Fellowships awarded to three UC Santa Cruz faculty

Alexander Gamburd
Yi Zuo
Dimitris Achlioptas

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has selected three UCSC faculty members to receive 2007 Sloan Research Fellowships: Yi Zuo, assistant professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology; Dimitris Achlioptas, assistant professor of computer science; and Alexander Gamburd, assistant professor of mathematics.

The Sloan awards are intended to enhance the careers of the very best young faculty members in specified fields of science. This year, a total of 116 fellowships were awarded in seven fields--chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, and physics. Each award includes a $45,000 grant that provides unrestricted support for research.

Zuo's research revolves around the communication between two classes of cells in the nervous system: neurons and glia. Despite the fact that glia constitute the majority of cells in the nervous system, their roles in neural circuitry have only begun to be understood. Zuo plans to use modern imaging techniques and molecular manipulation to study glia-neuron communication and understand how glia are involved in learning and memory. This research could suggest ways to manipulate brain function through modulating glial signals and lead to potential treatments for various neurodegenerative diseases.

Achlioptas's research in computer science addresses what are known as constraint satisfaction problems (CSPs). The popular number game Sudoku is a classic example of a CSP, where the variables are the contents of the empty squares, and the constraints arise from the rules of the game and contents of the filled-in squares. CSPs conceptually similar to Sudoku are found in many areas ranging from biology and biochemistry to software verification and airplane design, Achlioptas said. But while Sudoku problems can be solved in milliseconds by a computer using exhaustive search techniques, most real-life CSPs could not be solved that way. Achlioptas's work is aimed at designing algorithms for solving real-life CSPs using ideas inspired by statistical physics.

Gamburd's research in mathematics concerns spectral problems in number theory, probability, and combinatorics. He is particularly interested in problems related to random matrices and expander graphs.

One of the oldest fellowship programs in the country, the Sloan Research Fellowship Program began in 1955 as a means of encouraging research by young scholars at a critical time in their careers. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit institution, was established in 1934 by Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the president and chief executive officer of the General Motors Corporation.