November 2, 2000

Cornell Scientists Earn Early Career Award

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The White House honored two Cornell professors last week with the Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering.

Prof. Edwin Kan, electrical and computer engineering, and Prof. Gregory Morrisett, computer science, were two of 60 researchers to receive the award, presented by Neal Lane, President Bill Clinton’s science advisor.

“I was really excited to see Edwin and I both get this award,” Morrisett said. “I’m very honored.”

Kan specializes in the design of integrated systems, developing nanoscopic chips that could be used for medical implants that would draw their power from the movements of the human body.

Morrisett works with computer security, researching ways to incorporate safeguards already present in certain programming languages, such as Java, into compact machine codes.

Established by the Clinton Administration in 1996, PECASE recognizes researchers who have received their Ph.D. degrees within the past five years and carries research grants for up to $500,000 over five years.

Recipients were nominated by federal agencies for the award. Kan was nominated by the National Science Foundation; Morrisett was nominated by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

With the award in hand, Kan says he wants to reorganize the University’s integrated systems courses.

“There are so many different courses on integrated systems but students don’t have the time to take all of these,” he said. “Instead of having to take 10 courses, if I could reduce the number of courses to five I will be very happy.”

In addition to enabling students to finish the courses in a shorter amount of time, Kan’s proposal will also allow more undergraduates to get involved in work with integrated systems.

“Students have to finish 10 courses before they can do anything, but I want to penetrate to lower levels so it is not only graduate students who can do this research,” he said.

After receiving the award, Morrisett acknowledged the influence of his undergraduate professors on his career.

“I got started by participating in an undergraduate project myself,” he said. “Having a professor willing to work with you individually teaches you a lot. The guy I worked with did an excellent job of training me.”

Morrisett advised undergraduates to get involved in research as early as possible.

“In a new field like computer science, students can have a big impact,” he said. “It is a field that deserves a lot of bright minds, and security is a hard problem we are going to face in the near future.”

Morrisett’s focus on undergraduate learning has not gone unnoticed.

“He is what you would call talented all around — a great advisor to both undergraduates and Ph.D.’s,” said Prof. Charles Van Loan, Chair of the Department of Computer Science. “He does all the things that you would want in a professor, both in teaching and advising.”

Morrisett joined Cornell in 1995 after receiving his doctorate from Carnegie-Mellon University. Kan joined more recently, in 1997 after working at Stanford University as a research associate.

Archived article by Divya Awal