Bal Named 2003 Sloan Fellow

Prof. Guillaume Bal"Prestigious Sloan Fellowships Recognize Five CU Professors"
Columbia Spectator, by Megan Greenwell

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation named five Columbia professors among its "most promising young researchers of 2003," awarding each a Sloan Research Fellowship worth $40,000.

Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Guillaume Bal, Andrei Beloborodov, Virginia Cornish, and Mu-Tao Wang were among 117 scientists and scholars nationwide selected last week as recipients of the Sloan fellowships. Bal and Wang won prizes for mathematics, Abdulkadiroglu for economics, Beloborodov for physics, and Cornish for chemistry. The foundation also awards fellowships in neuroscience, computer science, and computational and evolutionary molecular biology.

"These awards are intended to enhance the careers of the very best young faculty members in specified fields of science," said Gwendolyn Knowles, Sloan's research fellowship administrator.

The five Columbia fellowship recipients, each of whom was nominated by a senior professor in his or her department or by the department chair, are all assistant or associate professors, meaning that none are tenured at the University. According to Knowles's guidelines about selecting fellows, such junior faculty members are the intended pool of applicants for the awards.

"Selection procedures for the Sloan Research Fellowships are designed to identify those who show the most outstanding promise of making fundamental contributions to new knowledge," the fellowship application brochure reads. "Financial assistance at this crucial point ... often pays handsome dividends later to society."

The Sloan Foundation awards $1.2 billion a year in the name of Alfred Pritchard Sloan, the former chief executive officer of General Electric. The institution funds scientific research, business organizations, educational programs, and film production, but the basis of each endeavor is to "further scientific work and its portrayal," according to the foundation's mission statement. The foundation created the research fellowship program in 1955 "to provide support and recognition to young scientists."

The award money, which is paid over two years, is given to the recipients' academic departments for the winners to spend as they see fit. Sloan committee members and fellowship applicants cite this flexibility as an important distinguishing factor between the fellowship and other research grants, most of which restrict the use of funds to purchasing research materials.

"The great thing about the Sloan Fellowship is that it supports your research program generally, rather than supporting a particular project like most grants," Cornish said. "Thus, you can use this grant money to initiate a new research project, something more creative and more high-risk."

Wang, who is studying the evolution of geometric objects in mathematics using differential equations, said that he would use part of his award to "buy off his teaching," reducing his course load for a semester to focus on research.

"This grant is going to facilitate more and better research on my part," Wang said. "If I'm concentrating on this work, I will be able to continue this work and improve it."

Other award recipients said they would use their funding to hire research assistants, travel to conferences, and run experiments, among other ideas.

But Columbia's newest fellows emphasized that the most important aspect of the grant is not the monetary award but the recognition it brings. Twenty-six Sloan fellows have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, and several hundred have won other honors within their fields of study.

Bal, who said he is studying the derivation of macroscopic equations for complex wave phenomena, said the award will further his career as a mathematician.

"It gives me motivation to keep working in the same areas," he said. "The name of Sloan fellow may ideally help me to increase the visibility of my work and contacts with other researchers." Abdulkadiroglu agreed.

"Being a Sloan fellow is one of the most highly regarded professional recognitions one can achieve at this stage of his or her career," he said. "It is an honor."

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