The University Record, July 22, 2002

President Bush presents three researchers with awards

By Judy Steeh
News and Information Services

Three U-M researchers received the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (PECASE) from President Bush at a ceremony early this month at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The PECASE award is the highest honor that the U.S. Government bestows on scientists and engineers who are beginning their careers.

The Michigan winners were named by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which chooses candidates who demonstrate excellence in research and education.

Brian Conrad, an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, was singled out for his work in arithmetic geometry, an overlap of number theory and algebraic geometry. This field uses ideas from geometry to understand questions about whole numbers, and has applications both within theoretical mathematics as well as in the development of cryptographic systems needed for computer security. He also is deeply concerned with encouraging high school and undergraduate students who are interested in math. He regularly visits with students at Churchill High School in Livonia, advising student research projects, presenting talks to students at summer math programs and organizing the undergraduate math club at the U-M.

Elizabeth Davis, an assistant professor in the School of Education, has conducted studies of how elementary teachers learn to teach science, and is developing a program that will support new elementary teachers as they learn how to teach inquiry-based science. Her ground-breaking research focuses on how new teachers integrate their knowledge and develop the ability to use that knowledge in the classroom, and on how specific supports in the Web-based learning environment, such as online discussions, contribute to that development.

R. Brent Gillespie, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is developing a robotic device that can determine how physical objects feel when pressed or pushed, then automatically emulate such feel for a human who presses or pushes on the robot. He calls this device the “haptic probe” (haptic refers to the sense of touch). There are applications for such a device in the areas of human-computer interaction, computer games and computer music. In order to deepen engineering students’ understanding of dynamic systems and controls, he is engaging their sense of touch with small robots (called haptic interfaces) through which they can feel virtual systems.

Sixty Presidential Awards were given this year to candidates recommended by eight government agencies, with 20 of those awards coming from NSF. They are designed to identify young scientists and engineers who show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge and to highlight the importance of science and technology for the nation’s future.

More information about the Presidential Awards can be found at