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Saha Awarded Prestigious Sloan Foundation Fellowship

Barna Saha

Barna Saha, assistant professor of computer science in the College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS), has been awarded a prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship for her research in theoretical computer science and the mathematical foundation of data science. Saha is one of three UMass Amherst researchers to receive the fellowship this year. 

The fellowships, awarded yearly since 1955, recognize early career scholars whose achievements mark them as among the most promising researchers in their fields. Nominated by their fellow scientists, the winners are selected by independent panels of senior scholars on the basis of their research accomplishments, creativity and potential to become a leader in their field. Sloan Foundation winners this year were drawn from 57 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. Each receives a two-year, $70,000 fellowship to further their research.

Saha explains that in her research, "I try to determine the fastest possible algorithms for important optimization problems. I have managed to find significantly faster approximation algorithms for problems including shortest paths in graphs, matrix multiplication over certain algebraic structures, language edit distance and RNA folding." These have applications in such areas as data cleaning, computing the secondary structure of the RNA molecule, and genome comparison.

She says of this recognition, "It is like a dream come true. I am truly honored to receive this award that many illustrious scientists have received in the past. This will be a great inspiration for me to continue and expand my research. The Sloan funding will enable me to pursue a wider range of such questions concerning efficiently approximating important optimization problems."

Her colleague at CICS, Professor Neil Immerman adds, "The award of a Sloan Research Fellowship to Barna Saha for her groundbreaking work on the complexity of approximating fundamental optimization problems is fantastic and well deserved."

For the Sloan Foundation, president Adam F. Falk says, "Sloan Research Fellows are the best young scientists working today. Sloan Fellows stand out for their creativity, for their hard work, for the importance of the issues they tackle, and the energy and innovation with which they tackle them. To be a Sloan Fellow is to be in the vanguard of twenty-first century science."

Daniel L. Goroff, director of the foundation's fellowship program, says the awards are valued not only for their prestige, but because they offer a highly flexible source of research support. He adds, "What young researchers need is freedom to follow where their research leads. Find the brightest young minds and trust them to do what they do best. That is the Sloan Research Fellowship."

Past Sloan fellows include important figures in science such as physicists Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann, and game theorist John Nash. Forty-seven fellows have received a Nobel Prize. Based in New York City, the Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grant-making institution established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then president and chief executive officer of the General Motors Corporation.

(Excerpted from a UMass Amherst News Office article, "Three UMass Amherst Early Career Faculty Awarded 2019 Sloan Research Fellowships"