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06/29/2002 07:00:00

White House names Caltech's Erik Winfree as Presidential Early Career Award winner

Erik Winfree, a computer expert who hopes someday to use DNA molecules to perform computations, has been named a 2002 winner of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The honor, announced June 27 by the White House, is made each year to young American scientists and engineers whose innovative work is expected to lead to future breakthroughs.

Winfree, 32, is an assistant professor of computer science and computation and neural systems at the California Institute of Technology. A Caltech graduate, he has been a member of the faculty since 1999.

"Our group is interested in biomolecular computation: how systems of biomolecules, such as DNA and enzymes, can process information and carry out algorithms," Winfree explains on his lab's Web site. "While our theoretical studies are wide-ranging, our experimental efforts focus on coaxing DNA to perform algorithmic tricks."

The PECASE is the third major award Winfree has won in the last two years. In 2000 he was named a MacArthur Fellow in the program often referred to as the "Genius Grants." In addition, he was awarded a $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation in 2001, and in 2000 was on MIT's first list of TR100 innovators.

A native of Chicago, Winfree earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1991, and studied computation and neural systems under John Hopfield and Al Barr at Caltech from 1992 to 1998. He also was a postdoctoral scholar at Princeton and a visiting scientist at MIT.

The PECASE awards were created in 1996 by the Clinton Administration "to recognize some of the nation's finest junior scientists and engineers and to maintain U.S. leadership across the frontiers of scientific research."

Contact: Robert Tindol (626) 395-3631