Working to Prevent Bad Vibrations

Ren-Cang Li, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, has received a CAREER Award in Math from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The four-year award of $205,000 will support Li's research in fast and accurate computations.

The NSF's Faculty Early Development Program (CAREER) funds outstanding junior faculty in mathematics, science and engineering, and emphasizes the early years of the faculty member's career development. CAREER fellowships are intended to help the recipients become outstanding researchers and effective teachers. Approximately 350 of the awards are given nationwide each year in all scientific fields.

Li specializes in numerical analysis and scientific computation. "Conventional numerical software is good enough for some applications," Li says, "but sometimes with the smallest values you can hardly tell if any of the digits are correct. This could be bad news, for example, to builders, who must be sure that a building's natural frequencies of vibration don't match up with those of the earth during an earthquake. When the building's natural frequencies of vibration match those of an earthquake, a phenomenon called resonance occurs and the vibrations may become strong enough to tear apart the building. These frequencies are typically among the smallest values computed from a mathematical model of the building; thus, they must be computed accurately to ensure that the building, once built, will be safe."

Li joined the UK faculty in 1997 after serving as a graduate student instructor at the University of California-Berkeley and a teaching assistant at the University of Illinois. He was a visiting assistant professor at the Laboratory for Computer Science at MIT in 1997 and a Householder Fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 1995 to 1997.

"Ren-Cang Li's receipt of this prestigious fellowship confirms our own judgment that this young faculty member is an outstanding addition to our department and university," says Peter Anton Perry, chair of the mathematics department. "Dr. Li works in two areas of applied mathematics: matrix computations and computer solutions of ordinary differential equations. His work in matrix computations cuts across a number of disciplines in the mathematical sciences." Among its fields of applications are image processing, object recognition (computer vision), molecular dynamics, and ocean modeling.

Debbie J. Gibson