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Two College of Arts and Sciences faculty members are among a select group of young scientists awarded a 2014 Sloan Research Fellowship. Sharon Goldberg, an assistant professor of computer science, and Jared Weinstein, an assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, are among 126 scientific researchers who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in their fields of chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean science, and physics. Winners receive $50,000 to further their research.
“We are all so proud of our young professors who are starting their careers so strongly,” says Virginia Sapiro, dean of Arts & Sciences. “These awards that Professors Goldberg and Weinstein have received are marks of distinction not just for them, but for Boston University.”
The two-year fellowships are bestowed by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, named for the former president and CEO of General Motors. The foundation was established by Sloan in 1934 to support research in science, technology, and economics, based on the belief that “scholars and practitioners who work in these fields are chief drivers of the nation’s health and prosperity,” according to the foundation. Past recipients of Sloan Research Fellowships have gone on to win a total of 39 Nobel prizes.
As a network security researcher, Goldberg studies the global internet, and more specifically, the ways networks worldwide connect to one another. She uses tools from theory (such as cryptography) and networking (such as measurement, modeling, and simulation) to understand the hurdles computer scientists face when deploying new security technologies. She then tries to develop solutions to these problems.
“The internet is a global system and no one authority or one country controls it, which creates lots of interesting security and policy issues,” says Goldberg, a National Science Foundation Early Career Award winner and a Hariri Institute Fellow. “Because the system was designed at a time when there was little notion that there would be attacks or bad behavior, bogus information can propagate through the system, which causes networks to select bogus routes for their traffic, and, in turn, can cause their traffic to be intercepted.”
There are protocols designed to solve these security problems, Goldberg says, but the problem is that it’s hard to convince networks to use them. “So my work looks at how to transition to these new secure protocols,” she says. “There are many interesting hurdles that need to be surmounted in order to do this.”
Goldberg plans to use the Sloan grant to continue her research into internet governance.
Weinstein’s area of expertise is the field of number theory, with a specialization in automorphic representation theory, which studies abstract algebraic structures.
“Many mathematical concepts have miraculous scientific applications that were completely off the radar of whomever invented them,” says Weinstein, who is also a recipient of a National Science Foundation Research Award through 2016. “Number theory is no exception. When you buy something online, your credit card number gets encrypted using a scheme which rests on some fairly sophisticated number theory…I study numbers not because they’re directly useful to humanity (though they may be), but because they are beautiful.”
He will use part of his Sloan grant to attend a special mathematics seminar in Berkeley, Calif., this fall, he says.
When the Sloan Fellowship recipients were informed of the award, Weinstein recalls, they were strictly adjured not to tell anyone until the official announcement was made on February 18. “The Sloan Foundation took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to announce the winners, so I casually told my family to check the paper out that day,” he says. “They were pretty surprised.”