Three UI professors win Sloan fellowships

Three UI professors win Sloan fellowships

URBANA — Three University of Illinois professors have been awarded prestigious Sloan Research Fellowships in recognition of their potentially ground-breaking research in physics, math and bioengineering.

Neal Dalal, Vera Mikyoung Hur and Sheng Zhong are among 126 early-career scientists and researchers from 51 colleges and universities chosen for a two-year fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The program awards $50,000 for the scientists to use toward their research.

"Today's Sloan Research Fellows are tomorrow's Nobel Prize winners," Paul Joskow, president of the foundation, said in a release. "These outstanding men and women are responsible for some of the most exciting science being done today."

Dalal, an astronomy professor, investigates the fundamental physics of cosmology, including the structure of the universe, the formation of galaxies and mysterious components in the universe such as dark matter and dark energy, according to a UI news release.

He developed a simple model describing the physical properties of dark matter halos, which surround all observed stars and galaxies. His group devised an entirely new probe of inflation, or expansion, in the early universe based on the clustering of galaxies and their host halos.

Dalal received his doctorate in astronomy from the University of California at San Diego in 2002. He received a Hubble Fellowship from the Space Telescope Science Institute and was a senior research associate at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics before joining the UI faculty in 2011.

Hur is a mathematician who models water waves, from ripples to tsunamis, according to the Sloan Foundation. She studies nonlinear partial differential equations that arise in physical contexts, with particular interest in wave motions at the surface of water and related interfacial fluids flows. She explores geometric and physical properties of permanent and progressive waves in the ocean. Recently, she has been also working on problems at the interface of partial differential equations and probability.

Hur earned her doctorate in mathematics at Brown University in 2006. She was an instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the UI faculty in 2009.

Zhong, a professor of bioengineering, studies causal relationships among gene regulation, cell differentiation and cancer. His lab pioneered systems biology modeling, stem-cell engineering and single-cell technologies.

Zhong made important discoveries on the genetic differences of early embryonic development among humans, mice and cows. His work helped open the field of "comparative epigenomics" — using cross-species comparison to annotate genomes.

Zhong earned his doctorate in biostatistics at Harvard University in 2005. He is also a professor of biophysics and neuroscience and affiliated with the departments of computer science, statistics, and cell and developmental biology; the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology; the Institute for Genomic Biology; and the National Center for Supercomputer Applications.

Sloan research fellowships have been awarded since 1955. Candidates are nominated by their peers and selected by an independent panel of senior scholars.

For a complete list of winners, visit:

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