By Wileen Wong Kromhout

Jennifer Wortman Vaughan, an assistant professor of computer science at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been named a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor given by the United States government to young engineers and scientists at the outset of their professional careers.

**update July 31: Vaughan received the award today at a special ceremony for the PECASE honorees in Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy led the ceremony. The award winners then met with President Obama at the White House.

“Discoveries in science and technology not only strengthen our economy, they inspire us as a people,” President Obama said. “The impressive accomplishments of today’s awardees so early in their careers promise even greater advances in the years ahead.” **

Vaughan’s research interests are in machine learning, algorithmic aspects of economics, and social computing. Machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, is a scientific discipline concerned with the design and analysis of algorithms that allow computers to calculate recommended behaviors or predictions based on empirical data, such as collections of documents on the Web or sets of tagged images. It is applicable to problems as diverse as natural language processing, speech recognition, spam detection, search, computer vision, gene discovery, medical diagnosis, and robotics.

”It is a huge thrill and an honor to receive this award,” said Vaughan, who holds the Symantec Term Chair in Computer Science. “It’s exciting to see such strong government support for basic research in science and engineering.”

The growing popularity of the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook has led to the availability of novel sources of data on preferences, behaviors, and beliefs of massive populations of users. A major goal of Vaughan’s research is to bridge the gap between theory and practice by designing a new generation of machine learning models and algorithms to address and explain the issues commonly faced when attempting to aggregate local information across large online communities.

“We are extremely proud of Jenn and her accomplishments,” said Vijay K. Dhir, dean of UCLA Engineering. “Her research, in the realm of artificial intelligence, is at the forefront of computer science. Jennifer has been a great addition to the faculty and it is gratifying once again to see one of our own recognized at a national level.”

Vaughan has already won several awards including the National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career (CAREER) Development Award, and the NSF Computing Innovation Fellowship. Vaughan was nominated for the PECASE by the NSF and is among this year’s 96 recipients who was invited to the ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The Presidential early career awards embody the high priority the Obama Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the Nation’s goals, tackle grand challenges, and contribute to the American economy. Recipients are selected based on their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.

Vaughan was one of three UCLA faculty members who received the PECASE this year. She is also the seventh UCLA Engineering faculty member to have received the award since 2004.