Seven University professors

by Kelly Hildebrandt

Computer software can be used to control everything from a nuclear power plant to a simple microwave.
For the past four years Mats Heimdahl, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, has been developing a computer language for these control systems that will be less ambiguous and more consistent than the one currently being used.
He is one of seven junior faculty members at the University who received McKnight Land-Grant Professorships for his research.
Usually the control system software is written in English, which can be ambiguous and cause the device to fail, Heimdahl said.
Heimdahl is working on developing a language that will be well-defined and also easy enough to understand.
Heimdahl said the land grant usually goes to other engineering departments; only one other professor in the computer science department has received the McKnight professorship.
“It’s mainly good for the computer science department,” Heimdahl said.
The land grant is a two-year appointment which is available to new University professors who have been employed at the University for less than three years and received their doctorate less than six years ago.
To receive the land grant, the professors must be nominated by their department. This year, about 24 professors were nominated, said Myrna Smith, director of the Graduate School Fellowship Office.
Of the 24 nominees, only seven recipients were chosen by a committee of 10 faculty members, Smith said. The recipients are from a variety of departments ranging in research projects from the fall of the Berlin Wall to volcanic activity.
Recipients are chosen for their originality, innovation and potential to contribute to their field.
“Our only regret is that we couldn’t fund additional awards because we had a truly exceptional batch of faculty,” said Christine Maziar, dean of the Graduate School.
The recipients receive $23,000 apiece for each of the two years to further their research.
“It makes me feel welcome here at the University,” said Marc Hirschmann, a professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics and another recipient of the land-grant.
Hirschmann studies melting in the Earth’s surface by simulating the high temperatures and pressure in the laboratory. He also reproduces the process on a computer and does a “virtual experiment” in order to predict the process the Earth’s mantle goes through under specific conditions.
“A significant amount of this money is going to students to do research,” Hirschmann said, adding he has two graduate assistants working on the project with him.
The McKnight Land-Grant Professorship was established in 1987 and named after an endowment gift given by the McKnight Foundation.
Other recipients of the professorship are: Daphne Berdahl, anthropology; Paul Crowell, physics and astronomy; Ray Gonzalez, English; Bradley Nelson, mechanical engineering; and Elise Ralph, physics, Large Lakes Observatory in Duluth.