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Professor Sreeram Kannan Receives Prestigious NSF CAREER Award

March 23, 2017


Assistant Professor Sreeram Kannan

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. The NSF rewards these activities as they build a firm foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions to research and education.

UW Department of Electrical Engineering Assistant Professor Sreeram Kannan received the NSF CAREER award for his work involving “Information-Theoretic Methods for RNA Analytics.” The major objective of Kannan’s research is to adapt, apply and create new information-theoretic and algorithmic methods to solve inference problems arising in RNA sequence analytics.

The last decade has seen major breakthroughs in sequencing technology. This has led not only to the ability to sequence the static aspects of the genome through DNA sequencing, but also to understand the dynamics of gene expression with transcript-level precision and single-cell resolution through RNA sequencing. This has applications in diverse areas of biology, medicine and engineering, such as evolutionary biology, developmental biology, medical transcriptomics as well as synthetic biology.

In order to leverage these advances in biotechnology, it is necessary to develop novel computational algorithms that perform inference on these new datasets. Kannan’s project will address inference problems arising at two different levels of RNA-sequencing: assembly, which deals with the inability of DNA sequencers to read long fragments of DNA, and downstream analytics, which utilizes the RNA sequence data for further biological analysis, including gene regulation and cell differentiation. Kannan’s research has a two-fold objective: to formulate and solve novel information-theoretic problems arising from genomics, as well as to apply recent algorithmic advances to this important application domain.

The project will have a significant educational component that integrates these new discoveries into graduate and undergraduate courses that can expose electrical engineering and computer science students to sequencing problems. In addition, it will engage high school and undergraduate students with this research by outreach and mentoring.

Kannan runs the Information Theory Lab, which deals with the fundamentals of information processing and transmission and its applications to computational biology as well as in wireless networking. Kannan previously received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) RO1 grant for his work on RNA sequence assembly in collaboration with Lior Pachter and David Tse. He is also the recipient of the Van Valkenburg outstanding graduate research award from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a co-recipient of the Qualcomm Cognitive Radio Contest first prize, a recipient of Qualcomm (CTO) Roberto Padovani outstanding intern award, a recipient of the S.V.C. Aiya (gold) medal from the Indian Institute of Science and a co-recipient of Intel India Student Research Contest first prize.