February 25, 2016

Two Cornell Assistant Professors Named Sloan Research Fellows

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Two of Cornell’s researchers — Assistant Prof. Yimon Aye, chemistry and biochemistry, and Assistant Prof. David Mimno, information science — were recognized among today’s “most promising scientific researchers” when they were awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowships on Wednesday.

In addition to acquiring prestige as members of “the next generation of scientific leaders” in the United States, the fellows will also receive $55,000 administered over two years to support their research, according to the Foundation.

Aye’s multidisciplinary research focuses on the application of chemistry-driven technologies to biological cell signaling in order to better understand the timing and target specificity that underlie biological communications, she said.

Her lab’s light-activatable on-demand redox-targeting synthetic molecule, named T-REX, is the first of its kind, and Aye attributes her innovative approach to her dual training.

“It was quite a risky idea when we first started,” Aye admitted, but she said the award of the fellowship signaled to the team that they are headed in the right direction.

“The Sloan Fellowship uniquely recognizes our contribution in the area of technological development [and its application],” she said.

Her team plans to use the fellowship funds to purchase a new microscope for the lab and move on to applying the T-REX to a wider variety of settings, according to Aye.

“We wanted this strategy to be really user-friendly,” Aye said. “Any researcher interested in the technique … could use the tool.”

Cornell’s other award recipient, Dr. David Mimno, focuses his research on data mining. He received the Sloan Fellowship for his development of new technologies to sort through the millions of digitized texts that Google and the Internet Archive have collected in collaboration with university libraries over the past decade.

“This collection is like a human genome project for humanities and social science,” Mimno said, “but it is sitting idle.”

Mimno said his work has to circumvent the problems presented by copyright laws and the lack of available tools to work with such a large collection.

“We’re finding ways to [engage with the works] without operating directly on the original materials,” he said.

His team is also helping humanities scholars incorporate computational approaches into their research methods and improve their efficiency. This collaboration provides his team with helpful feedback.

“The insights we gain from collaborations inform our technical agenda by highlighting which advances will have the most impact on actual practice,” Mimno said.

Both professors recount feeling honored and humbled upon receiving the fellowship.

“This award is really a vote of confidence in me and my colleagues,” Mimno said.

Aye and Mimno are two of the 126 researchers chosen as 2016 Sloan Research Fellows, with other fellows coming from top research universities across the US and Canada, including seven of the eight Ivies.