WPI Professors Receive Prestigious NSF Awards

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WORCESTER, Mass.-Three WPI faculty members have received major awards from the National Science Foundation. George T. Heineman of Westborough, Mass., assistant professor of computer science, James C. Hermanson of Paxton, Mass., associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Christof Paar of Northampton, Mass., assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, were chosen for the NSF's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, which encourages the development of young faculty members as both educators and researchers.

Heineman will receive $205,000 over four years for his project," A Model for Designing Adaptable Software Components"; Hermanson, $210,000 over four years for his research, "Disruption and Vaporization of Superheated Droplets in Compressible Flow"; and Paar $210,000 over four years for his project, "Cryptography on Reconfigurable Hardware: Algorithmic and System Aspects."

Heineman received his B.A. from Dartmouth College and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He joined the faculty in 1996. He is researching how to design software components to realize the goal of constructing software applications from pre-made, independently constructed components. Two of the most complex and costly problems in software development are how to design extensible code and how to adapt existing code for new contests. "No one expects to purchase a wrench from a hardware store and then use it as a hammer," he says. "But that is exactly the sort of expectations placed upon software components."

Heineman proposes that software components provide two interfaces: one for behavior and one for adapting the behavior as needed. Currently, software components offer services on a public interface that hides its actual implementation. Under Heineman's system, a component would reveal key design decisions, allowing application builders to adapt them. "There is a growing interest in component-based software development, and this research will make such efforts practical and possible," he says. "Our contributions will impact all fields of computer science struggling with the difficult problems of developing large-scale, high-quality and robust software applications." The plan is to create a design environment that will help component designers and application builders construct component-based software.

A member of the WPI faculty since 1995, Hermanson earned his B.S. at the University of Washington and his M.S. and Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology. His work will address issues important to the high-speed mixing and combustion of liquid fuels in supersonic combustion ramjets (scramjets) -- the type of engine likely to be used in aerospace planes and hypersonic cruise missiles. The focus of the work will be the study of the combined effects of liquid superheating and compressibility on the disruption and vaporization of liquid fuel droplets.

"There are significant benefits to scramjects in using liquid hydrocarbon fuels, such as their high density and ease of storage and handling compared to liquid hydrogen fuel," says Hermanson. "This research is particularly relevant to the 'cold start' problem of flight, where supersonic flow can exist in the combustor, but there is not yet sufficient heat input to pre-vaporize the fuel prior to injection."

In a letter to the NSF, United Technologies Research Center noted that the research would be of direct interest and benefit in their industrial and commercial engine research efforts.

Paar, who joined the faculty in 1995, holds a B.S. from the Technical College of Cologne, Germany, an M.S. from Michigan Technological University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Essen, Germany. He will use the NSF funds to enhance data security in modern communication and information systems, using the relatively new approach of treating cryptography as an engineering discipline. His central idea is a systematic and comprehensive treatment of reconfigurable hardware, making use of the improving capabilities of this hardware that allow even complex algorithms to be implemented on it.

"The to-be-built information superhighway will allow such services as electronic payment systems, medical applications, home shopping and interactive digital TV, to name only a few possibilities," says Paar. "Considerable portions of the corresponding information infrastructure will be wireless. At the same time, security aspects of information and communication systems are of growing concern. The expected scope of the new information infrastructure and also its partially wireless and thus vulnerable, nature gives security considerations high priority. Without a doubt, there will be a major need for 'crypto engineers' by U.S. industry in the near future.

These awards bring to seven the number of WPI faculty members who have won CAREER awards since the NSF's Faculty Early Career Development Program was initiated in 1995. The previous recipients are John A. McNeill, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, Fabio Ribeiro, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Chrysanthe Demetry, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Barbara E. Wyslouzil, assistant professor of chemical engineering.

WPI is an independent technological university founded in 1865. In 1997, U.S. News & World Report ranked WPI among the top 50 national universities in its Best Colleges Guide and 35th among the top national institutions in the magazine's Best College Values report.