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Young Faculty Awarded Prestigious Sloan Foundation Fellowships

FEBRUARY 27, 2006
Media Contact: Kim McDonald (858) 534-7572
Comment: Martin Yanofsky (858)534-7299

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded fellowships to 116 young faculty researchers, including two professors at UCSD. The prestigious Sloan Research Fellowships are granted annually to young faculty who show "the most outstanding promise of making fundamental contributions to new knowledge."

The 2006 awards for UCSD went to computer scientist Alin Deutsch and neuroscientist Lisa Boulanger. Other fields benefiting from this year's Sloan fellowships include chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, economics, mathematics and physics.

Lisa Boulanger joined UCSD in July 2004 as an assistant professor of biology in the Division of Biological Sciences, but she is not new to the La Jolla campus: Boulanger received her doctoral degree from UCSD in neurobiology in 1998. She received her bachelor's degree in marine biology from Boston University and her master's degree in neurobiology from Wesleyan University.

Alin Deutsch is an assistant professor in the computer science and engineering (CSE) department in the Jacobs School of Engineering. The Romanian-born academic received his doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2002 after earning his bachelor's and master's degrees, respectively, from Bucharest Polytechnic University, and Germany's Technical University of Darmstadt.

Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Alin Deutsch

Deutsch and Databases

Deutsch is a member of CSE's database group, and his research focuses on providing infrastructure for publishing and consuming data on the Web, particularly by exploiting the Extended Markup Language (XML). XML is the widely accepted standard for data exchange among businesses on the Internet. It supports the integration of many different types of data from many different sources. Deutsch has developed computer algorithms to help a user query data without having to know exactly where and in what format that data is stored.

"We have developed a system that solves the problem of having to reformulate queries when you are dealing with an organization's proprietary data," said Deutsch. "My ultimate goal is to make it faster and easier to query collections of Web-distributed data sources that combine XML and more traditional relational or semi-structured databases."

Deutsch also builds high-level, user-friendly tools to help data owners grasp the ramifications of granting access to their data on the Web. In 2004, Deutsch was awarded a five-year National Science Foundation CAREER grant for his work on XML middleware techniques for preserving privacy when publishing databases. In June, he will co-chair WebDB 2006, the Ninth International Workshop on the Web and Databases. At UCSD, he is affiliated with the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, and the Center for Networked Systems, which recently began funding Deutsch's project to develop a Grid-based processor for XQuery, the World Wide Web Consortium's standard XML query language.

Boulanger and the Brain

Boulanger's current research at UCSD is focused on understanding the mechanistic relationships between the nervous system and the immune system. It builds on a discovery that she and colleagues made while she was a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley and Harvard Medical School that specific immune proteins also perform distinct, non-immune functions in the brain.

These proteins - members of the major histocompatibility complex class I - are known to play a key role in the adaptive immune system, where they enable the body to identify and eliminate infected cells. Boulanger and her colleagues found that they also "moonlight" in the brain, where they are unexpectedly required for normal brain development as well as adult brain modifications thought to underlie learning and memory.

Boulanger and her students hope to characterize further the role played in normal brain development and function by major histocompatibility complex, class I proteins. They also hope to determine the molecular and cellular signaling used by these proteins in neurons and to investigate how these proteins may be involved in specific neurological disorders.

"The Sloan is a terrific fellowship, in that it offers great flexibility in how the money can be used to support our research," says Boulanger. "We will probably use some of the award funds to initiate new pilot studies that would be difficult or impossible to fund through other mechanisms, enabling us to expand our research program into new, unexplored topics."

Sloan Research Fellowships

Established in 1955, the Sloan Research Fellowships program has grown in size and cost over the years, but its purpose remains the same: to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise. In most cases, the fellowships go to academics during their first faculty appointments to help them set up laboratories and establish their independent research projects.

More than 500 nominations are scrutinized each year to arrive at a final selection of 116 Sloan Research Fellows. Thirty-two fellows have gone on to become Nobel Laureates.