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March 01, 2011

Qatar National Research Fund Awards Grants to Three Researchers

By Andrea L. Zrimsek

GrantAge might only be a number, but for post-doctoral researchers Behrang Mohit, Peter Hansen and Thierry Sans, it was a factor in each of them winning a grant from the first cycle of the Young Scientists Research Experience Program from Qatar National Research Fund.

The grants, $100,000 each renewable for up to three years, aim to build human capital by supporting scientists age 35 or younger to initiate and lead their own research.

Their projects focus on expanding Arabic content on Wikipedia, creating 3-D maps using robots and developing more secure Web applications. All of these projects will have a great impact on Qatar as well as the rest of the world.

“This is a wonderful result that reflects the high-quality research that is being done by the young faculty and post doctoral research associates at Carnegie Mellon Qatar. They are all under age 35 and are working on amazing projects with real-world impact,” says Majd Sakr, assistant dean for research.

Mohit’s proposal focused on expanding Arabic Wikipedia by statistical machine translation.

“Arabic is one of the top 10 spoken languages, yet the number and the length of Arabic articles is not in the top 20 languages of Wikipedia,” Mohit said. “We plan to train systems that automatically translate Wikipedia articles from English to Arabic and locate those parts with higher translation quality to be used by Arabic Wikipedia authors.”

Hansen’s project involves SLAM, or simultaneous localization and mapping using robots. Since GPS can be fairly unreliable when there are buildings and structures in the way, Hansen is fitting a robot with multiple cameras, then creating a 3-D map of the environment using the images from the cameras.

With multiple cameras, the robot can find its position and determine what has changed from a previous trip. Such technology could be a crucial safety feature at liquid natural gas processing facilities because the robot could automatically do surveillance, check for gas leaks and find structural changes.

Sans’ work focuses on something that affects everyone on a daily basis: Internet security. He is working on a type-safe programming language for the Web called Qwesst that builds safe and secure Web applications.

Since Web applications are becoming more and more complex, it is harder to control how data is disseminated over the Internet. Attackers can steal sensitive information by exploiting Web application bugs. Qwesst will have a built-in security model that will allow programmers to control data dissemination and prevent them from writing unsafe code.

Carnegie Mellon submitted four of the 11 proposals that were independently evaluated by three internationally renowned peer reviewers. Only six grants were awarded: three to Carnegie Mellon, two to Qatar University and one to Weill Cornell Medical College.

“We submitted four proposals and were awarded three. And of the six grants that were awarded, Carnegie Mellon received 50 percent. I think that is excellent. With these grants, Carnegie Mellon will continue to be a fundamental component of the growing research culture here in Qatar,” Sakr said.

The first grant cycle was so successful that Qatar National Research Fund has decided to have two funding cycles each year.

Behrang Mohit (from left), Peter Hansen and Thierry Sans were each awarded $100,000 grants by the Qatar National Research Fund.