The University Record, November 12, 1997

Three faculty receive Presidential Awards

By Jane R. Elgass

Three U-M faculty members are among 60 nationwide to receive Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their careers.

The awards recognize young scholars' research contributions, their promise and their commitment to broader social goals, and are designed to help the government meet the goals of producing the finest scientists and engineers for the 21st century and maintaining U.S. leadership across the frontiers of scientific research.

U-M recipients are Timothy A. McKay, assistant professor of physics; Ann M. Sastry, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics; and Michele S. Swanson, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology.

Timothy A. McKay

McKay's award supports both teaching and his participation in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), a collaboration of more than 200 scientists from eight institutions in the United States and Japan.

The SDSS, the most ambitious astronomical survey project every undertaken, will bring modern mapping approaches to cosmography, the science of mapping the universe and determining our place in it.

The SDSS will systematically map one-quarter of the entire sky, producing a detailed image of it, and determine the position and absolute brightness of more than 100 million celestial objects. It also will measure the distance to 1 million of the nearest galaxies, yielding a three-dimensional picture of the universe through a volume 100 times larger than that explored to date, McKay notes. It also will record the distances to 100,000 quasars, the most distant objects known, giving us an unprecedented hint at the distribution of matter to the edge of the visible universe.

Ann M. Sastry

Sastry is conducting research that is answering fundamental questions about the way the fibrous materials behave in various applications. Her work on electric car batteries, human peripheral nerves and reinforcements in polymeric composites has allowed investigation of the behavior of fibrous materials using a novel, theoretical framework that incorporates material variability in a computationally efficient methodology for prediction of performance. Materials designers, once limited to theories using simplified closed-form approaches or highly computationally intensive numerical techniques, now have a set of tools for assessing the effect of material variability on variability in performance, Sastry says.

Michele S. Swanson

In addition to teaching clinical microbiology courses for medical students and infectious disease courses for undergraduates, Swanson is engaged in research to define the molecular interactions that determine the fate of microbes in macrophages, white blood cells that efficiently kill most microbes, using Legionella pneumophila pathogenesis as a model system.

While a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Tufts University, Swanson applied a combination of genetic, molecular and cell biological techniques to study L. pneumophila growth in macrophages.

Federal agencies that support the Presidential Early Career Awards include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Transportation and Veterans Affairs; the Environmental Protection Agency; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and the National Science Foundation.