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
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.