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MS Student <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 10 Feb 2011 10:36:18 -0500
MS Student <[log in to unmask]>
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Tammie Dudley <[log in to unmask]>
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  Computer Science student wins university's Suttles Fellowship

        Monday, February 7, 2011 – Ann Claycombe

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Ken Nguyen, a Ph.D. student in Computer Science, has won the William M. 
Suttles Graduate Fellowship, the university’s highest graduate student 
honor. Nguyen’s project, “Efficient Multiple Sequence Alignment,” 
promises to find new ways to analyze and compare biological materials at 
the molecular level.

Nguyen’s research is in the fast-growing field of bioinformatics, which 
is the use of computers to analyze vast amounts of biological data. In 
this case, the data comes from new sequencing techniques for DNA, RNA 
and proteins.

By comparing – or “aligning” – similar sequences, researchers can find 
the shared evolutionary origins of specific genes or proteins. Those 
clues can point to new drugs and other medical breakthroughs. And the 
method can be used by those studying other massive data sequences: 
linguists trying to reconstruct a dead language, or marketers analyzing 
purchases over time.

The problem is finding the needle of a clue in the haystack of data. To 
that end, Nguyen’s project is using a technique called parallel 
computing. In parallel computing, big problems are split into smaller 
components, which can be worked on by many different computers at once.

“To the best of our knowledge, the new parallel alignment algorithm will 
be the most efficient algorithm that has ever been developed in this 
field of study,” Nguyen’s application reads.

Nguyen’s work is part of a larger project headed up by his dissertation 
advisor, Professor Yi Pan, who is also chair of the department. The 
larger project is a collaboration with the University of Southern 
Mississippi, the Mississippi Functional Genomes Network, and others.

Nguyen is the first computer science Ph.D. student to win the Suttles 
Fellowship, which was established by the John and Mary Franklin Family 
Foundation in memory of the fourth president of Georgia State 
University. He will receive $1,500, as well as an additional $1,000 from 
the university’s Dissertation Grant program.