Two Earn Alpha Sigma Nu Honors

Two Earn Alpha Sigma Nu Honors

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

In what is believed to be a first in Boston College history, two faculty members took top honors in the Alpha Sigma Nu Annual Jesuit Book Awards.


Professors Peter Clote (Biology), right, and Paul Davidovits (Chemistry) were first-place winners in the annual Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit Book Awards. (Photo by Justin Knight
Prof. Paul Davidovits (Chemistry) won first place in the Natural Sciences category for his book, Physics in Biology and Medicine, while Prof. Peter Clote (Biology) and co-author Evangelos Kranakis of Carlton University were winners in Mathematics and Computer Science for Boolean Functions and Computation Models.

Alpha Sigma Nu, the national Jesuit honor society, awards book prizes each year in a specific discipline, such as the humanities, science, or professional studies, which encompasses a range of fields from architecture to law. This year's contest recognized publications in the sciences, drawing 49 entries from 20 Jesuit colleges and universities for four categories.

"It is an honor to be recognized by a distinguished organization," said Clote, who has a courtesy appointment in the BC Computer Science Department. "But this is a great achievement for Boston College, not just for Paul and me."

Davidovits said, "I am delighted to have been chosen for the award. A book is a very personal venture, and it is therefore very affirming to have respected colleagues read, and validate, one's work."

Added College of Arts and Sciences Dean Joseph Quinn, "Although Boston College authors have traditionally done very well in this annual competition, this is the first time in which we have two first-place winners. It is great to see the work of our best faculty acknowledged in this very prominent way. Congratulations to Paul and Peter."

Boolean Functions and Computation Models is aimed at researchers in the field of complexity theory, which is central to parallel computation. Parallel computing involves the use of hundreds or thousands of microprocessors to work in parallel on a single computing task, whether linked together in a single computer or housed in computers linked together on a network.

Scientists and engineers say parallel computing can be used to tackle problems faster and with greater power, and is useful in designing products such as cars, airplanes and electronic components and improving methods and services, including toxic waste clean-up and mutual fund management.

Clote and Kranakis explain the structure of "fast" parallel computation through a survey of research on boolean functions, circuits, parallel computation models, function algebras, and proof systems. The complexity of parallel computation is emphasized through a variety of techniques ranging from finite combinatorics, probability theory and finite group theory to finite model theory and proof theory.

A member of the BC Computer Science Department since 1984, Clote, a jazz saxophonist and flutist, moved to the Biology Department last year. Prior to his transition, Clote's primary research interest was in the interface of theoretical computer science and mathematics. His current research focuses on computational molecular biology and bioinformatics.

In his book, Davidovits relates important concepts in physics to living systems. "At one time scientists believed that a 'vital force' governed the structure and organization of biological molecules," he said. "Today, most scientists realize that organisms are governed by the laws of physics on all levels.

"While almost two centuries of research have found that physical laws fully apply to biology, work is far from complete. Basic questions at the atomic, molecular, and organismal levels remain unanswered. Even when typically complex molecular structure is known, function is not yet predictable. Nourishment, growth, reproduction and communication distinguish biological matter from inorganic matter, yet these mechanisms are understood only qualitatively."

The book emphasizes the applications of physics in biology and medicine, reviewing the physical fundamentals before embarking on the biological implications and applications.

A native of Czechoslovakia, Davidovits received a 2001 Boston College Distinguished Faculty Award for research. He is an environmental chemist who studies the atmosphere, specializing in the interactions of gas molecules with liquid droplets in clouds and fog that play a key role in many atmospheric processes, including the formation of acid rain and ozone depletion.

 

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