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Four faculty members named Schurman professors

Four Cornell faculty members have been named Jacob Gould Schurman Professors, one of the most prestigious chairs at the university, named for Cornell's third president. They are Andrew Clark, professor of molecular biology and genetics; Steven H. Strogatz, professor of theoretical and applied mechanics; Éva Tardos, professor and chair of computer science; and William P. Thurston, professor of mathematics.

Clark received his Ph.D. in population genetics from Stanford University in 1980 and joined Cornell in 2002. His early work on haplotype inference has recently played a key role in identifying genes for many complex disorders in humans by a method called association mapping. He contributed to the analysis and publication of the first human genome sequences. Along with colleagues at Cornell, he has been involved in studies demonstrating the impact of natural selection on the human and other primate genomes, leading to an understanding of the underlying causes of some of the remarkably high population frequencies of traits that cause human disease. He also runs a drosophila laboratory, where his group is responsible for the discovery of most of the genes on the drosophila Y chromosome, the evolutionary pressures on the immune system of flies, and on diabetes-like syndromes inducible in flies.

Strogatz, after earning his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1986, came to Cornell in 1994. Strogatz applies mathematics to real-world systems, ranging from physics to biology to social networks. He has studied the geometry of supercoiled DNA, the dynamics of the human sleep-wake cycle, the topology of three-dimensional chemical waves, lasers, superconducting Josephson junctions and the collective behavior of such biological oscillators as swarms of synchronously flashing fireflies and crickets that chirp in unison. In recent years he has moved to studying the small-world phenomenon in social networks (popularly known as "six degrees of separation") and its generalization to other complex networks in nature and technology, the nonlinear dynamics of language death and the role of crowd synchronization in the wobbling of London's Millennium Bridge on its opening day.

Tardos earned her Ph.D. in 1984 from Eötvös University, Budapest, Hungary, joined Cornell in 1989 and became chair of the Department of Computer Science in 2006. Her research focuses on algorithms that find close-to-best-possible solutions for problems on graphs or networks. Her recent work is on algorithmic game theory, an emerging new area of designing systems and algorithms for users who are all seeking the best possible outcome for themselves. Her work is aimed at quantifying the inefficiency of the equilibria that such selfish users reach and designing systems where selfish users reach close to efficient outcomes. For example, in a context of routing with delays (such as traffic on the Internet) she found that increasing network capacity is guaranteed to offset the inefficiency caused by the selfish behavior of users.

Thurston studied under noted mathematician Morris Hirsch at the University of California-Berkeley, earning his doctorate in 1972. When he came to Cornell in 2003, John Hubbard, Cornell professor of mathematics, said, "It's like hiring one of the great Nobel Prize winners." In 1982, at age 37, Thurston won the Fields Medal, which mathematicians regard as their Nobel. Thurston's primary work is in topology, which deals with properties of geometric objects that remain unchanged when the object is bent or stretched. He has discovered unexpected links between topology, hyperbolic geometry and complex analysis, and he studies relations of knot theory to computational complexity. He has made notable efforts to improve the teaching of mathematics in high schools and to bring more women and minorities into mathematics.

The original Jacob Gould Schurman Professorship, which was in German literature, was established in 1967 by a gift from Jacob Gould Schurman III. In 1976 the Cornell Board of Trustees established five additional Schurman chairs, and this spring created two more, bringing the total to eight.

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