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  5. ECE faculty member receives prestigious PECASE Awards

ECE faculty member receives prestigious PECASE Award

During an Oct. 24 White House ceremony, Susan Hagness, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering (also biomedical engineering), was among 59 faculty honored with Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Hagness also recently won a Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation.

In their fifth year, the PECASE Awards are the nation's highest honor bestowed upon scientists in the early stages of their careers. They recognize some of the nation's top junior researchers and also help advance the leading frontiers in scientific research.

Another UW-Madison faculty member, Assistant Psychology Professor Jenny Saffran, also received the PECASE award.

"This is a tremendous honor for both the individuals and the university, since having two winners in a year is quite rare," says Virginia Hinshaw, dean of the Graduate School and senior research officer. "Early financial support is critical to faculty, and these awards will help Susan and Jenny take their already promising careers to a new level."

Hagness and Saffran were recognized for both their research and teaching innovations and each will receive five-year, $500,000 awards.

"This award gives me the freedom to be creative and really take our research into new directions," Hagness says.

Photo of Tumor detection group.
Hagness (center) also is working to develop a low-cost, computer-based microwave alternative to traditional mammograms. The system could improve early tumor detection and eliminate the trauma of unnecessary biopsies. Learn more about this research Larger Image

Hagness is working on technology that could bring astounding new speed to computing and electronic communications. She says scientists are reaching what she calls "the tera era," or an age in which transmission rates for fiber optic communications may break the terabit per second mark. A terabit is one trillion bits per second.

The research field of nanotechnology is exploding nationally, and recent advances in materials technology and fabrication techniques are making it possible to design "photonic microstructures" that are fractions of the width of human hair in size. Hagness is working to understand how light travels within these structures, a key step before they can be applied in a new generation of integrated circuits.

In the classroom, Hagness is working to reverse the paradigm of "in-class lecture and out-of-class problem-solving." She uses interactive multimedia-based lectures, combined with small-group problem-solving sessions, to help students visualize and understand complex material.

Hagness and Saffran were nominated for this award by the National Science Foundation, their primary funding source. The NSF is one of nine federal agencies that shared award winners this year.

"These awards acknowledge much more than past performance," says NSF director Rita Colwell. "They represent our expectation that these women and men will continue to provide leadership in science, engineering and higher education well into the millennium."