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University of Iowa News Release


March 28, 2007

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Three UI Researchers Receive Prestigious NSF CAREER Awards

Prestigious awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will help one University of Iowa researcher study driver behavior and safety, another to examine how to prevent complex systems -- such as nuclear power plants -- from failing, and still another to study enzyme catalysis in chemistry.

Linda Ng Boyle and Nagi Gebraeel, both assistant professors of mechanical and industrial engineering in the UI College of Engineering, and Christopher Cheatum, assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, have been selected by the NSF to receive Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Awards for 2006. As award recipients, Boyle and Gebraeel will each receive some $450,000, and Cheatum $600,000, over the next five years.

The CAREER award is the most prestigious NSF honor for junior faculty and recognizes research and teaching excellence, as well as scholars who are likely to become future academic leaders. The awards, presented to engineers and scientists across the country, are designed to help universities attract and retain outstanding young faculty members.

Boyle, who is also a human factors researcher in the UI Public Policy Center and faculty director of the Human Factors and Statistical Modeling Lab, plans to use her award to advance knowledge of adaptive strategies in driving as influenced by prolonged system use, integrate the research into graduate courses, and develop outreach activities for K-12 students and teenage drivers.

One aspect of her work involves studying how people's behavior affects their risk of injuries and mishaps, including why drivers commit errors and crash, and how they respond to emergency situations. Her current projects focus on individual differences at rural expressway intersections, driver distraction-related issues, and the impact of in-vehicle technologies on driver performance. She earned her doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Washington in 1998 and joined the UI faculty in 2002. Prior to coming to the UI, she was a senior researcher in the Office of Safety and Security at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Volpe Center, where she served as the principal investigator on a grant to quantify crash risks of commercial drivers. She continues to work with the U.S. DOT while at the UI.

Gebraeel, who also serves as interim director of the Reliability and Sensory Prognostic Systems Group in the Center for Computer Aided Design (CCAD), plans to use his award to develop a sensor-based prognostic methodology for preventing unexpected failures of complex engineering systems -- such as manufacturing systems, service applications and military systems. He plans to develop state-of-the-art, sensor-driven decision models for maintenance operations and spare parts logistics. He hopes to integrate these finding into the graduate and undergraduate curriculum to provide students with a contemporary view of reliability and maintenance logistics.

His current research interests include condition/health monitoring, sensor-based prognostics and degradation modeling, sensor-driven decision models for maintenance management and spare parts logistics. He earned his doctorate in industrial engineering from Purdue University in 2003 and joined the UI in 2004. Prior to coming to the UI, he was in charge of the Industrial Engineering Focus Area of the Technical Assistance Program at Purdue, where he supervised a wide range of industrial engineering research/consulting projects in the state of Indiana.

Cheatum plans to use his award to better understand the time-related dynamics of enzymes -- among the most specific and efficient catalysts known -- and how those dynamics relate to enzyme function. He says that theoretical models have shown that fast dynamics in the range of a few hundred femtoseconds -- one femtosecond is one millionth of one billionth of a second -- make a significant difference in chemical reactions in enzymes, but few experimental measurements of protein motions have been made on this time scale. He points out that a better understanding of such enzyme dynamics may lead to improved approaches to drug design and industrial biocatalysis, which is used to produce a wide variety of products ranging from bread and yogurt to insulin.

Cheatum's current research interests include proton-transfer reactions of model compounds and proteins using time-resolved vibrational spectroscopy to probe the intermolecular interactions and how those interactions control the chemistry of enzyme catalysis. He earned his doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 2001 and joined the UI faculty in 2003. Prior to coming to the UI, he served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2001 until 2003, where his research involved two-dimensional infrared spectroscopy of proteins.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 301, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,