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Sloan Foundation names two from Stanford for research fellowships

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has selected assistant professors Liqun Luo of biological sciences and Nick McKeown of electrical engineering for its 1997 Research Fellowships.

Stanford's new Sloan Fellows were among 100 researchers in physics, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, neuroscience and economics chosen for a boost at the early stages of their careers because of their "exceptional promise to contribute to the advancement of knowledge."

Each will receive a $35,000, two-year grant to pursue whatever lines of inquiry are most interesting. "This flexibility is often of great value to young scientists who are at a pivotal stage in establishing their own independent research projects," according to an announcement of the awards prepared by the Sloan Foundation.

More than 3,200 young researchers have received Sloan Research Fellowships since the program's inception in 1955. Hundreds have gone on to earn prestigious awards and honors, including 21 Nobel prizes.

Liqun Luo

Luo, who joined the Stanford faculty last December, studies how the brain develops. His work focuses on the neurons, which are very specialized cells that have a much different morphology from other cells. As the brain develops, neurons send out long, thin tendrils called axons and dendrites that make connections with other neurons. The axons and dendrites grow in the right direction to make the proper connections by sensing and interpreting chemical signals in their environment. Luo is studying the nature of these attractive and repellent signals, how neurons detect them and how the cells interpret these signals to direct their growth.

The neuroscientist received his bachelor's degree at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei located near Shanghai. He received his doctorate in 1992 from Brandeis University and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California-San Francisco before coming to Stanford.

Nick McKeown

High-speed networks, including Internet routing and architecture, is the subject of McKeown's research. Although the "pipes" carrying data on the Internet are large enough to handle the traffic on the network for the next several years, components called routers and switches have become the current bottleneck. These are the electronic versions of the mail-sorters at the post office, who put the letters in the proper bins so they can be carried to the correct destination. McKeown's group is designing improved mail-sorting capabilities for the Internet. In one project, which they call "Tiny Tera," they are developing a switch capable of shuttling a trillion units of information per second ­ enough to handle all the telephone calls in the United States or all the packets of Internet data in the world.

McKeown came to Stanford in June 1995, immediately after earning his doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California-Berkeley. A native of Britain, he received his undergraduate electrical engineering degree from the University of Leeds and then worked at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in Bristol for three years.


By David F. Salisbury