Dr. Oliver Serang Awarded NSF CAREER Grant

Image of Dr. Oliver Serang

Dr. Oliver Serang was recently awarded a five-year NSF CAREER grant to address three unmet computer science needs in analyzing mass spectrometry data. Specifically, the first unmet need Dr. Serang’s team will be tackling is to statistically identify proteins in a biological sample (this is important for understanding what makes cells different, e.g., what makes a skin cell different from a blood cell). The second is the identification of chemical species in a biological sample; this is crucial in applications such as, for example, enabling accurate and automated disease diagnosis. The third is finding the "alphabet" of basic molecular ingredients in a sample. This approach can be used to learn about chemical structures without any prior knowledge. 

All of these problems are united by fundamental “combinatoric” challenges (i.e., coming up with ways to efficiently count things). For example, how many different orders can you place at Big Dipper ice cream that would add up to exactly $100? These counting problems are challenging but can be solved efficiently due to mathematical algorithms invented by Dr. Serang and his team.

These combinatoric approaches will also be used to create a new season of the Exploring Scientific Wilderness podcast and to create a K-12 combinatorics curriculum. These fun exercises will not only be taught in Montana schools, but instruction plans will also be posted online for free use by teachers and parents around the world. 

You are encouraged to follow the progress of the project by visiting: https://alg.cs.umt.edu/nsf-career.html

NSF CAREER grants are highly prestigious awards aimed at providing foundational support to early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as role models in research and education. Such awards enable a lifetime of leadership for integrating education with research.