Luis von Ahn
It's the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to scientists and engineering professionals in the early stages of their careers.
Carnegie Mellon University's John Kitchin and Luis von Ahn have been awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).
The PECASE program recognizes scientists and engineers who, early in their careers, show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of knowledge.
"Discoveries in science and technology not only strengthen our economy, they inspire us as a people," U.S. President Barack Obama said. "The impressive accomplishments of today's awardees so early in their careers promise even greater advances in the years ahead."
Kitchin is an associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at CMU.
An innovative researcher and educator, Kitchin received the Kun Li Award for Excellence in Education in 2010 and won a five-year, $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 2010 to develop new materials for producing hydrogen and oxygen from water using electrochemistry.
He was nominated for the prestigious award by the DOE's Office of Fossil Energy for his research efforts in collaboration with the National Energy Technology Lab's Regional University Alliance (NETL-RUA), an alliance of five universities that conduct fully-integrated basic and applied energy and environmental research.
Kitchin and his team developed an electrochemical separation method for separating oxygen from air at ambient pressure and temperature.
Cheap, efficient oxygen production is critical for several clean energy and CO2 capture technologies of the future. Traditional air separation methods require extreme refrigeration to turn air into liquid that can be distilled, which is very energy intensive. Another alternative uses extremely high temperatures and pressures to selectively drive oxygen through ceramic membranes.
Von Ahn is the A. Nico Habermann Associate Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. His research enables humans and computers to work together to solve problems that neither humans nor computers could solve alone.
His most recent innovation, Duolingo.com is a free website that he created with Severin Hacker, a Ph.D. student in computer science at CMU. Duolingo teaches users a foreign language; as those users practice their new skills, they are translating online texts and thus making the web accessible to more people worldwide.
The site features computer tools that enable these foreign language learners to translate text as well as a professional.
In 2007, von Ahn used his crowdsourcing approach to create the online puzzles known as reCAPTCHAs, which reduce spam and protect websites from automated, malicious programs. So far, more than a billion Internet users have solved reCAPTCHA puzzles and millions of books have been made suitable for search and for reading on any digital device.
He also created Games with a Purpose, which harness human gameplay to tackle challenging problems beyond the current capability of computers, such as image recognition.
He currently holds the Habermann Development Chair in Computer Science, which is awarded every three years to a junior faculty member of unusual promise in Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science. And he has received numerous awards, including the Association for Computing Machinery's Grace Murray Hopper Award earlier this year.
Additional CMU-connected PECASE Winners this year include Frank DelRio (E'98), Vincent Conitzer (CS'03, CS'06) and Curtis Huttenhower (CS'03). See the White House press release for a complete listing of this year's recipients.