Math researcher earns prestigious START Prize

December 12, 2013

Clemens Heitzinger, assistant professor of applied mathematics in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, has recently been awarded the prestigious START Prize by the Austrian Science Fund FWF.

The START program of the Austrian Science Fund FWF is the most lucrative and prestigious funding program for young researchers in Austria. The START Prize is an international competition among all areas of science. It supports outstanding young scientists with long-term and extensive financial security to start or build up their own independent research group and keep it running. Heitzinger’s START award provides 1.2 million Euro, or over $1.6 million, over six years. Download Full Image

Real impact for quality of life

Heitzinger’s research project, “Partial-Differential-Equations Models for Nanotechnology,” aims to develop mathematical models and simulation tools for new applications in nanotechnology, which is the study of how to manipulate matter at the molecular and atomic levels.

The applications are at the forefront of research in health care and quality of life. “Nanowire biosensors are interesting because you can detect small quantities, for example, of tumor markers. So one idea is that you draw only a tiny amount of blood and see if you are sick or not,” explains Heitzinger.

“Another application is related to toxic gases. For example, carbon monoxide is an extremely toxic gas, so if your heating system fails there is a good chance you may die at home and you’ll have never noticed the gas. Nanowire sensors enable the detection of tiny amounts of bio and gas molecules, such as toxic gases. Companies like Samsung have the idea to put nanowire gas sensors into mobile phones.

“Nanopores are expected to be a basic technology for next-generation DNA sequencing. They can also detect single molecules, which has many potential applications.”

Heitzinger’s modeling and simulation work is also relevant for metamaterials, which are materials with an engineered fine structure. There is much commercial interest in optical metamaterials for things such as smartphone cameras.

Better design and new technologies

These applications lead to new model equations and systems, and to more complex mathematical problems. “Our goal is to provide quantitative understanding of these current and relevant applications,” Heitzinger explains. “Quantitative understanding allows better design and supports the development of new technologies.”

He aims to use deterministic and stochastic differential equations and systems of them to model new devices, to prove mathematical properties of these equations and systems, and to develop efficient numerical algorithms for realistic simulations. 

Mathematical modeling and computation are used to help theoretically understand the behavior of nanomaterials. Computer simulations of the behavior of these materials can also help reduce the costs of building numerous prototypes. 

The field of stochastic differential equations is the basic tool used in this modeling process. A differential equation is an equation involving the derivatives of the unknown function that describes the behavior of the material, such as the electrical current through the material. The term stochastic refers to the fact that many of the terms in the equation represent quantities that are subject to random effects. 

The beauty of mathematics

“We just hired Clemens Heitzinger as an assistant professor of applied mathematics and I am very pleased that he was awarded the Start Prize for 2013-14,” said Al Boggess, director of the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “This is a great honor since only nine recipients were selected this year for this highly competitive award. Heitzinger's research program epitomizes one of the fundamental values that mathematics brings to society: mathematical modeling allows researchers to study the behavior of complex systems in science and engineering by using computer simulation and without building expensive prototypes. It is heartening to see that this fundamental value of mathematics, and Heitzinger's research program in particular, is being rewarded by the Austrian Minister of Science in the granting of this Start Prize.”

“The beauty of mathematics is that our mathematical models and results are very abstract and, hence, they are applicable to various different applications,” Heitzinger says of his work. “Our mathematical results make it possible to calculate what could not be calculated before.” 

Quantitative understanding

“Sometimes in experiments you don’t really know what’s going on, why something is happening. There may be different effects, you don’t know which one you are measuring at this point in time. So the simulations should give you a quantitative understanding of what’s going on – which effect is actually the important one, which is the one I’m measuring right now.”

Heitzinger’s mathematical techniques will enable researchers to build highly effective simulations that are more accurate and less expensive than building traditional prototypes. “Once you have confirmed your simulations match to reality, then you can optimize quite easily. If you were to build a new device each time, those are really expensive and take lots of effort to build them. But if I have the simulation, I can change the device parameters easily so you can understand what is going on and you can optimize it.

“At the end of the day it should be really useful work, in the sense that once you can simulate those devices and structures, it provides quantitative understanding so you understand better what’s going on.”

International collaboration

In the START project, Heitzinger will collaborate with international partners here at Arizona State, the University of Cambridge, Columbia University, Yale University, Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London and the Materials Center Leoben in Austria.

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences


Panchanathan elected to National Academy of Inventors

December 12, 2013

Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president for Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU, has been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Election to the fellow status is a high professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.

Panchanathan is a professor in ASU’s School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering. He is also director of the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC). Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan Download Full Image

“Dr. Panchanathan exemplifies the spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship and social responsibility that ASU aims to cultivate,” says ASU President Michael Crow. “As a faculty researcher, he directs a center devoted to creating technologies that assist individuals with disabilities. As senior vice president for Knowledge Enterprise Development, he leads and expands the research and entrepreneurship activities of one of the fastest-growing research enterprises in the country. His contributions to ASU and the community are broad and remarkable.”

Academic inventors and innovators elected to the rank of academy fellow were nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.

Panchanathan holds four U.S. patents that solve fundamental problems in multimedia. For example, he has developed a face classification system using curvature-based multi-scale morphology to classify an image by its most distinguishing features.

Another invention is a method for tracking objects from a video sequence by selecting regions that contain the objects of interest in the first and the last frame. And he has developed a method to produce a reconfigurable circuit device for running a computer program of moderate complexity, such as multimedia processing.

“I am happy that the research at the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing focused on innovation and societal impact is being acknowledged through this recognition,” said Panchanathan. “I am grateful for the work of my students and researchers in CUbiC. This recognition also reflects the spirit of innovation that permeates through the New American University.”

Panchanathan has received two Microsoft Imagine Cup awards, the Governor’s Innovator of the Year for Academia award and the ASU Leadership Award. He has published or presented more than 400 papers in refereed journals and conferences, and is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Society for Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers and the Canadian Academy of Engineering. Currently, Panchanathan serves as an associate editor for several journals, including the International Journal on Advances in Internet Technology. He is also co-authoring a book, “Haptics: Background, Technology and Applications,” to be completed in December 2015.

Together, the 143 innovators elected to fellow status hold more than 5,600 U.S. patents. Included in the 2013 class are 26 presidents and senior leaders of research universities and non-profit research institutes, 69 members of the National Academies, five inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation, two recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Science and nine Nobel Laureates.

The fellows will be inducted by Deputy U.S. Commissioner for Patents, Andy Faile, from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, during the 3rd Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors in March.