Two graduate students from the Eberly College of Science, Emily Howerton and Siddharth Vishwanath, have been selected alongside eleven others to receive the Alumni Association Dissertation Award, one of the most prestigious awards given to doctoral candidates at the University.
The award was made possible through a gift from the Penn State Alumni Association and provides funding and recognition to outstanding full-time research doctorate students who have passed their comprehensive examinations and have received approval of their dissertation topic. The award, comprised of a certificate and a medal, is considered to be among the most prestigious available to Penn State graduate students and recognizes outstanding professional accomplishment and achievement in scholarly research in any of the disciplinary areas.
Howerton is a graduate student in biology in the lab of Katriona Shea, professor of biology and Alumni Professor in the Biological Sciences. Howerton’s research focuses on how to make better decisions during pandemics, in which decision-makers must deal with high levels of uncertainty. She developed methods to integrate the many sources of uncertainty in a pandemic, including aggregating the results of numerous models to improve accuracy and reliability. Several methods she developed are now in use by the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub to provide six-month ahead projections to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House and other public health decision-makers. By improving the science of infectious disease projections, Howerton hopes her research will help improve public health emergency responses.
“Emily is a truly exceptional student, and her Ph.D. research has fundamentally changed how the Hub aggregates and reports input from multiple models,” said Shea in a nomination letter. “As well as her scientific input, this means that she has directly contributed to COVID-19 policy in the USA.”
Vishwanath is a graduate student in statistics in the lab of Bharath Sriperumbudur, associate professor of statistics. He seeks to develop new ways to understand large and complicated sets of data resulting from new technologies, which are often too complex to study using traditional statistical methods. Vishwanath’s research focuses specifically on topological data analysis, which explores the geometric shapes that a data set can take and has applications in fields ranging from molecular chemistry to bioinformatics. Incorporating visualization into his work has created new insight and helped him to develop methods that reduce sensitivity to noise in data. He hopes that this work can result in innovative tools and techniques for analyzing data in a range of fields, including medicine and cosmology.
“Siddharth has constantly impressed me with his mathematical depth and inquisitiveness to learn more,” said Sriperumbudur in a nomination letter. “He has developed TDA methodologies that are not only robust to outliers but also computationally fast. To the best of my knowledge, these works are the current state-of-the-art and I am very confident that these methodologies will be highly impactful.”