Queens College professors get $800K grant

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Six Queens College science and math professors’ research on software for deaf individuals and alternative energy landed them more than $800,000 dollars from the U.S. National Science Foundation, which awarded the teachers with Faculty Early Career Development Awards, school officials announced last week.

“These substantial grants both honor and support outstanding research efforts by promising young scientists early in their careers,” said Richard Bodnar, acting dean of research and graduate studies at Queens College. “The money also enables graduate and undergraduate students to do meaningful work in the labs of these faculty members.”

The six professors, all of whom are in the departments of computer science, chemistry and biochemistry, and mathematics, said they were honored to be recognized by the federal NSF, which annually awards billions of dollars in grant money to publicly funded colleges and universities across the country. The professors in total received more than $855,000 from the NSF.

Matt Huenerfauth, a computer science professor who was hired in 2006, was recognized for his research on improving assistive technology for people with disabilities. Huenerfauth and members of his lab study how to design computer programs to translate English text into on-screen animations of American Sign Language in order to make information available online to deaf individuals.

“For several reasons, a majority of deaf high school graduates in the U.S. have at best only a fourth-grade English reading level, but many of these adults have sophisticated fluency in American Sign Language,” Huenerfauth said. “So software that can present information in the form of ASL animations or automatically translate English text to ASL would improve these persons’ access to Web sites, communication and information.”

Seogjoo Jang, a member of the chemistry and biochemistry department who was hired in 2005, was praised for his research that could result in new methods for converting the sun’s rays into chemical and electrical energy.

“I enjoyed reading about people going to far places,” Jang, who grew up in South Korea, said in a statement. “After I grew up, I realized there were not so many places left that I could explore, but I found there were so many things to explore intellectu­ally.”

Jianbo Liu, a chemistry professor hired in 2006, studies the oxidation of biomolecules, an important biological process associated with aging, disease and photo dynamic therapy for cancer.

“We hope to discover and develop new methods and techniques in analytical chemistry and nanotechno­logy,” Liu said.

Alexey Ovchinnikov, a math teacher at Queens College since 2009, is developing algorithms that can be used to solve differential and difference equations.

“These will have practical applications everywhere differential equations are used, in physics, biology, chemistry and the sciences in general,” Ovchinnikov said.

A computer science professor who has worked at the college since 2008, Hoeteck Wee’s research focuses on Internet safety.

That these new professors have landed prestigious awards speaks to changes at Queens College, the school’s president said.

“Since I arrived on campus in 2002, there has been a dramatic change in the makeup of our faculty as half has been hired since then,” Muyskens said. “This latest example represents an unprecedented achievement for these outstanding scientists, as well as for the college.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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