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Six scientists named Terman Fellows

STANFORD -- Six young science and engineering faculty members - whose research ranges from developing more effective antibiotics to investigating how bacteria move, to improving information access on computer networks - have been named Frederick E. Terman Fellows.

The new Terman Fellows, who all hold the rank of assistant professor, are Barbara Block, Hopkins Marine Station; Kenneth E. Goodson, mechanical engineering; John H. Griffin, chemistry; Jun Liu, statistics; Alfred M. Spormann, civil engineering; and Jennifer Widom, computer science and electrical engineering.

The program was launched in 1994 with a $25 million gift from William Hewlett and David Packard. The two alumni of the Electrical Engineering Department at Stanford and founders of the Hewlett-Packard Co. endowed the fellowships as a tribute to the late provost Terman, to whom they give credit for much of their, Stanford's and Silicon Valley's success.

The fellowships are designed to help young scientists who face increasing competition for federal grants that let them establish their own laboratories and recruit graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. The fellowships provide each recipient with up to $100,000 in unrestricted funds annually for three years. Junior faculty members in science departments in the School of Humanities and Sciences and the School of Engineering are eligible. Awards also are made to faculty in the schools of Earth Sciences and Medicine on a rotating basis.

Barbara Block
Block is co-director of the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, a joint project between Hopkins Marine Station and its neighbor, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She studies tunas, marlins and swordfish - open-ocean fishes that are usually inaccessible to scientists.

In one of her current projects, Block is developing acoustic and electronic monitoring devices, called pop-up satellite archival tags, that record data on the physiology, water-temperature preferences and location of these highly migratory fishes. The devices will store data while they are attached to the fish, then pop off, float to the surface and transmit the information back to shore via satellite.

Block plans to combine these data with molecular information on the genetic distinctiveness of different populations of each species. She hopes to determine the relationship between DNA fingerprints and migration strategies, information that could prove critical in developing effective international treaties to prevent over-fishing.

Block also studies the cellular basis for endothermy, the mechanism that a few fish such as tunas - as well as all mammals - use to generate heat within muscles. She and her students have captured more than 80 tunas and bonitos, tunas' cold-blooded relatives, for study.

Block said she will use most of the funds to support the engineering for the satellite archival tags. She will use the remaining money to acquire equipment needed for physiological studies designed to determine if tunas' warmer blood allows them to move faster than their cold-blooded kin.

Kenneth E. Goodson
Goodson's research group studies fundamental heat-transfer problems posed by the design and fabrication of exceedingly small electronic structures. He and his students are developing a basic description of how heat flows at the micrometer and nanometer scales.

Goodson said he will use a portion of the fellowship money to pursue a new research area: nanometer-scale thermal processing. The goal of his first project in this field will be to control temperature at the smallest spatial resolution ever achieved. Goodson's group has developed a new instrument to do this, the nanoscale thermoelectro manipulator, which consists of a laser connected to a tapered optical fiber that is mounted on a scanning probe microscope in place of its tip. The laser is used both to heat the fiber and measure its temperature. The researchers are using the device to anneal clusters of atoms and solder contacts between three-dimensional nanostructures.

Goodson said he intends to use some of the funds to help develop a new thermal engineering teaching laboratory in mechanical engineering. It will be developed specifically for users of the Nanofabrication Laboratory at the Center for Integrated Systems, where researchers are designing and building microscopic electromechanical devices.

John H. Griffin
Griffin's research lies at the boundary between chemistry and biology. His primary interests are the methods by which molecules recognize each other and the process of catalysis. (A catalyst is a compound that speeds up a chemical reaction without undergoing any permanent change.)

One of his current research efforts involves the creation and study of "catalytic antibiotics." Antibiotics fight foreign bacteria and fungi by attacking specific enzymes or compounds attached to the intruders' outer membrane. Normally, antibiotics destroy themselves in the process, so it takes a large number of antibiotic molecules to neutralize one bacterium. Catalytic antibiotics, by contrast, destroy foreign intruders without self-destructing. Griffin's work has led to new and improved catalytic activity in one class of antibacterial agents, derivatives of vancomycin. Given the emergence of drug resistant pathogens, his research has important practical as well as scientific implications.

Another major research focus is Griffin's study of a class of enzymes that play a critical role in the biosynthesis of sterols such as cholesterol. His group was the first to report the DNA and predicted amino acid sequence of one of these oxidosqualene cyclase enzymes. They are using this knowledge to design new antifungal agents and cyclase inhibitors.

Griffin said he plans to use his funds to expand research in these two areas.

Jun Liu
Liu has been instrumental in applying to new types of statistical problems a modeling tool that has been used by physicists for several decades. The approach, called the Monte Carlo technique, uses the computer to simulate and study complex systems involving many variables. It is typically useful for finding solutions to physical or statistical problems that are too complicated for an analytical solution. The technique was named after the famed gambling resort because its procedures incorporate the element of chance.

In particular, Liu has applied this approach, together with other forms of statistical modeling, to help determine the relationship among different DNA and protein sequences. For example, he has used this technique successfully to identify the active region in a number of remotely related proteins that perform similar biological functions.

The statistician also has begun to apply the Monte Carlo approach to an important problem in digital communication. The "blind equalization problem" involves the development of procedures that allow a cellular phone to adapt to a new signal source, as when moving from one cell to another, without requiring a "training signal" to make the adjustment.

Liu said he intends to use the funding for additional student support.

Alfred M. Spormann
Spormann is a microbiologist who is contributing to Civil Engineering's Environmental Science and Engineering Program. Although microbes have played a major role in creating the world's environment, little is known about them. Scientists estimate that only 5 to 10 percent of the microorganisms have been identified and classified. Spormann investigates some unusual properties that only bacteria possess.

One is the ability to break down highly toxic pollutants such as toluene, xylenes and ethylbenzenes - compounds found in groundwater contaminated by spilled gasoline - without using molecular oxygen. Most organisms rely on oxygen to break down such compounds, but groundwater commonly contains extremely low levels of oxygen, so a major approach to removing these pollutants is to use bacteria. Such bioremediation efforts are hindered by lack of knowledge about how bacteria work. They may require special metals to attack these aromatic hydrocarbons, for example. If that proves to be the case, scientists will know what they need to add to the groundwater to get bacteria to destroy the pollutants.

Another of Spormann's research projects is the attempt to understand how bacteria move: The rod-shaped cellular organisms, such as Myxococcus xanthus, glide forward and back along their axes without visible means of propulsion. By looking at the genetic structure of mutations that cannot move, the scientists are attempting to determine how the cells generate the power to move and how the force is transmitted to external surfaces.

Spormann said he has not yet made specific plans for what he will do with the fellowship support, other than to invest it in his research and support additional students.

Jennifer Widom
Widom's expertise lies in the area of database and information systems. Her work addresses the problems associated with using and managing large amounts of information stored in a variety of different sites on a network, such as the information accessible through the World Wide Web.

A case in point might be a large corporation that has information stored on different computers in a variety of formats and, as a result, has difficulty coordinating its information. Widom's approach to this type of problem is called data warehousing, a program that gathers relevant information from different sites, converts it into a single format and stores it in a repository where it can be analyzed easily.

Before coming to Stanford, Widom was a research staff member at IBM, where she developed a kind of "smart" database that not only holds information but includes rules that allow the database to process the data in various ways. For example, a rule-based database that holds stock prices also might look at the price data as they come in, analyze the data for specified trends and notify someone when the market is doing something interesting.

Widom said she intends to use the fellowship for student support and to buy additional equipment.



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