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Five Young Columbians Win Sloan Awards
For Work in Math, Biochemistry and Neuroscience

Five young Columbia scientists - in mathematics, biochemistry and neuroscience - have been awarded Sloan Research Fellowships.

Vincent Ferrera and Ning Qian, both assistant professors at the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior; Eric Gouaux, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics; Jian Yang, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences; and Shou-wu Zhang, associate professor of mathematics, were among 100 outstanding young scientists in the fields of physics, chemistry, pure and applied mathematics, neuroscience, economics and computer science chosen for the annual award.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation selected the winners on the basis of "their exceptional promise to contribute to the advancement of knowledge," the foundation said. Each will receive $35,000 in research support over two years. The fellowships, first awarded in 1955, were established to provide support to young scientists, often in their first appointments to university faculties, who were setting up laboratories and beginning independent research.

Professors Ferrera, Qian and Yang, who are researching various aspects of the central nervous system, were recently appointed to the faculty of the University-wide doctoral program in neurobiology and behavior. The program is one of the country's preeminent training efforts in brain science, said its directors, John Koester, professor of clinical neurobiology and behavior, and Darcy Kelley, professor of biological sciences.

"We are fortunate to have attracted these superb young neuroscientists to the Columbia faculty," Professor Koester said. "Their cutting-edge research is expected to make major contributions to our understanding of brain function both in health and in disease. The Sloan awards acknowledge their talent and provide important resources for their research efforts."

Professor Ferrera, who received the B.A. degree and a Ph.D. in neurobiology from the University of Chicago, joined the Columbia faculty last year after postdoctoral positions at the University of Rochester and the University of California, San Francisco. He is investigating how the cerebral cortex functions to produce cognition and the role of the parietal, temporal and prefrontal cortex in such elements of cognition as visual perception, short-term memory and pattern recognition. His goal is to develop computational models that relate the response of cortical neurons to human behavior.

Professor Gouaux earned the B.A. degree and the Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Harvard and joined the faculty in September after a postdoctoral appointment at MIT and a faculty appointment as assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Chicago. He is undertaking molecular studies of membrane receptors, enzymes and channels in an effort to better understand how biochemical messages are passed across cell membranes. He uses x-ray crystallographic techniques to determine three-dimensional molecular structures, then creates modified forms of the molecules and measures their thermodynamic and functional properties.

Professor Qian holds the B.S. degree from Fudan University and the Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University. He joined the faculty in 1994 after four years first as a postdoctoral fellow and then as a research scientist at MIT. He is investigating how perception takes place in the brain and is constructing mathematical and computational models of visual information processing based on physiological properties of visual cortical cells. His research team is particularly interested in analyzing the neural mechanisms of visual motion detection and stereoscopic depth perception.

Professor Yang earned the B.S. from Beijing University and the Ph.D. in physiology and biophysics from the University of Washington and joined the Columbia faculty in January. He held postdoctoral positions at Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco. He is investigating the structure and function of ion channels, membrane proteins specialized in conducting ions across cell membranes and responsible for generating electrical activity in the body. Professor Yang studies how ion channels select and conduct ions and how their activities are regulated by other signaling pathways in cells.

Professor Zhang holds a B.S. degree from Zhongshan University and the Ph.D. in mathematics from Columbia. He joined the faculty as an associate professor with tenure last June after appointments at Princeton as an instructor and assistant professor. His field is arithmetic geometry, in which geometric methods are used to study problems in number theory. The problems pertain to simple, basic mathematical objects: integers and algebraic equations.