Three faculty honored with College of Science Research Awards


Author(s): Lesa Petersen

The 2018 recipients of the annual College of Science Research Awards are Professor of Physical Chemistry Dor Ben-Amotz, Professor of Computer Science Ananth Grama, and Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Rafael Lang.

The awardees will present their research at the College of Science awards ceremony at 3 p.m. in Stewart Center 214 at 3 p.m. on February 20.

Awardee Research Presentations

Water-Mediated Interactions
Dor Ben-Amotz
Professor of Physical Chemistry
Professor Dor Ben-Amotz

Water-mediated interactions play a central role in biological self-assembly, as well as in medicinal, environmental, and materials chemistry. And yet, the magnitudes, and in some cases even the signs, of such interactions have not been experimentally measured. In order to do so, we use hydration-shell vibrational spectroscopy to quantify solute-induced changes in water structure and the associated size dependent crossover phenomena, as well as to measure the free energy driving forces that lead to the water-mediated aggregation and self-assembly of oily, polar, and ionic molecules.

Models, Methods, and Software for Single Cell Transcriptomic Data Analyses
Ananth Grama
Professor of Computer Science
Professor Ananth Grama

Single-cell transcriptomic data has the potential to radically redefine our view of cell type identity. Cells that were previously believed to be homogeneous are now clearly distinguishable in terms of their expression phenotype. Methods for automatically characterizing the functional identity of cells, and their associated properties, can be used to uncover processes involved in lineage differentiation as well as sub-typing cancer cells. They can also be used to suggest personalized therapies based on molecular signatures associated with pathology. We present a new framework, called ACTION, to infer the functional identity of cells from their transcriptional profiles, classify them based on their principal functions, and reconstruct regulatory networks that are responsible for mediating their identity. Results from using ACTION to sub-type cancer cells in Melanoma patients reveal novel biomarkers along with their underlying regulatory networks and drug response. (Work with Shahin Mohammadi, Vikram Ravindra, and David Gleich)

Hunting Dark Matter
Rafael Lang
Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy
Professor Rafael Lang

From a variety of observations spanning all cosmological time-scales and length-scales, we do know that most of the mass in the universe is in the form of dark matter. Some properties of dark matter are known, and yet, we have no idea what this dark matter actually is made of. Lang’s research focuses on discovering dark matter particles. One particularly promising avenue is with the XENON detectors, located in an underground laboratory in Italy and operated by an international collaboration. Another comes from exploiting the unique properties of liquid xenon-based detectors as single-electron detection devices. Lang’s particular focus is on unconventional signatures from new particles that might have been overlooked in the standard analyses. This presentation will give insights into his search for the unknown: How do we know that dark matter exists? How can we find dark matter particles? And what new opportunities present themselves as these experimental programs go forward?

Awardee Bios

Dor Ben-Amotz, professor of physical chemistry, was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Berkeley. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Bennington College and a PhD from UC Berkeley before serving as a postdoctoral fellow at Exxon. He came to Purdue as an assistant professor in 1989, where he won an NSF Presidential Young Investigator award and an ONR Young Investigator Program Award, as well as a Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award. His research activities include experimental laser spectroscopy, liquid theory, and optical instrument design, as described in over 180 papers, 9 patents, and the textbook Understanding Physical Chemistry.

Ananth Grama, professor of computer science, is an associate director of the Center for Science of Information, a Science and Technology Center of NSF. His primary areas of interest are parallel and distributed computing, large scale data analytics, and applications. He received his PhD from the University of Minnesota in 1996, his MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Wayne State University in 1990, and his B. Engg. in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee in 1989. He directed the Computational Science and Engineering and Computational Life Sciences programs at Purdue from 2012-16 and chaired the Biodata Management and Analysis (BDMA) Study Section of National Institutes of Health from 2012-14. He is a recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER award (1998) and the University Faculty Scholar Award (2002-07), a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (2013), and a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Minnesota (2015).

Rafael Lang, associate professor of physics and astronomy, completed his undergraduate work at the University of Ulm, Germany; at Monash University Melbourne Australia; and at the DESY Zeuthen, Germany. He graduated in 2005 with a Diplom for his work in searching for neutrinos with the AMANDA experiment at the South Pole. He earned his PhD in 2008 from the Technical University Munich, Germany, where he worked at the Max Planck Institute of Physics on the CRESST dark matter search experiment. He then began a postdoctoral position at Columbia University, where he worked on the XENON100 dark matter search experiment until 2011. Lang joined the faculty at the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Purdue College of Science in 2011. He leads the Purdue dark matter group, which holds hardware and analysis responsibilities on the XENON dark matter search experiments. Lang co-founded a new effort to search for dark matter signals at the single-electron quantum limit, and he runs an active laboratory effort to develop these technologies further.

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