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New faces, new frontiers
There are more than a few new faces in the halls of Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). This fall, eight distinguished researchers, from across academia and industry, joined the ranks of SEAS faculty bringing new expertise in the fields of electrical engineering, bioengineering, applied mathematics, chemical engineering, and materials science.
Among the new faculty are:
Demba Ba, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering, comes to SEAS from MIT, where he was a post-doctoral researcher with Emery N. Brown, the Warren M. Zapol Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Computational Neuroscience at MIT. Ba explores large-scale dynamic systems — including everything from neural networks to social networks — and develops theories and algorithms to understand and control those systems. Ba is especially interested in neural computing and understanding how the brain encodes and computes data.
His research could be help us understand what goes wrong in neural networks during pathological states and how empathy is expressed in social networks.
“Understanding these systems is challenging because there is so much data,” Ba said. “Finding one, low signal in all of that noise is like finding a needle in a haystack. My research combines theory, computing, and close collaboration with people collecting data to figure out the underlying principles of these systems and design better ones.”
Xin Li, Assistant Professor of Materials Science, also comes to SEAS from a postdoctoral position at MIT. Li’s research focuses on designing better, longer-lasting batteries by understanding the fundamental science behind how a material’s structure and composition affects its electrochemical properties. Li and his team study materials at the atomic level and explore questions about how changes in structure impact a material's ability to store energy.
“The scientific understanding of how and why materials with different structures and chemical composition change the performance of a battery guides the design of new materials to create better batteries,” Li said.
Sean Eddy, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, holds a joint appointment as Professor of Applied Mathematics. He comes to Harvard from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus. Eddy is a genomic time traveler, developing algorithms and software to analyze the evolutionary relationships between genome sequences, in the search for the last common ancestor of all life on Earth.
The computational methods developed by Eddy and his team seek to detect similar genomic sequences in organisms and identify remote relationships between distantly related protein and RNA sequences.
“Our algorithms act like telescopes, looking back in time to the birth of protein families and tracing those families back to the common ancestor of all life on Earth,” Eddy said.
In addition to Ba, Li, and Eddy, five new computer science faculty started at SEAS this fall.