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Ashley James, William Schuler PECASE winners

Assistant professors Ashley James (left) and William Schuler, both from the University's Institute of Technology, are among the 20 winners of the federal government's highest award to scientists and engineers at the start of their careers.

Two young faculty take it from the top

The careers of Ashley James and William Schuler are young but hot--and the U.S. government just stoked the fires

By Deane Morrison

It's been a heady year for Ashley James and William Schuler, assistant professors in the University's Institute of Technology. First, they received grants from the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Program (CAREER), which carry a stipend between $400,000 and $1 million over five years. Now they have just been feted at the White House as two of only 20 winners of the highest award conferred by the federal government on scientists and engineers at the start of their careers, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), also sponsored by NSF. The awards do more than just honor the nation's top young scientists and engineers. They also boost careers in areas of research deemed of critical importance for the future of the United States. Recipients of the PECASE award were chosen from the more than 350 people who received CAREER awards this year. James, of the aerospace engineering and mechanics department, and Schuler, of computer science and engineering, were among 56 honorees at a July 26 White House ceremony. All were investigators who had made extensive contributions to research and education and whose work is funded by federal agencies. Work like James' doesn't get a lot of attention in the popular press, but it's critical to keeping--literally--many industrial processes flowing smoothly. She studies flows that occur at interfaces in many industrial, biomedical, and natural processes. Her state-of-the-art computational techniques include variable surface tension effects that traditionally have been ignored. Her research lays groundwork for fundamental developments in interfacial fluid dynamics. She also has developed an educational and community outreach plan that is closely integrated with undergraduate and graduate teaching, with the goals of promoting education and increasing participation of students underrepresented in engineering. Ever wish you could just tell your computer what to do--and have it obey? Schuler integrates word recognition and semantic interpretation into a unified model for natural language dialogue between people and computers. He is also building bridges between human language processing and fields such as computer vision, robotics, and medicine. His students receive hands-on experience with a processing system for human language, which could be used for tasks such as getting information from a medical database over the telephone or commanding a team of robots. The PECASE awards were established in 1996 to honor the most promising researchers in the nation within their fields. Participating agencies award recipients up to five years of funding to further their research in support of critical government missions. With this year's crop of 20, the total number of awardees rises to 200.