Lenore Mullen Left Industry for NSF Honors in Academe

Lenore Mullen

Computer scientist Lenore Mullin is unabashedly enthusiastic about her arrival at Albany this fall. Right here on campus, she makes clear, she's already found the perfect environment for her particular methods of inquiry.

She's found students who really like computers. She's found a good network of colleagues and a computing infrastructure that supports her research. And she's found plenty of the kinds of complex problems that she's working to help solve.

Mullin's area of expertise is high-performance computing, the kind of computing usually associated with advanced scientific research and with supercomputers.

She's already achieved a national reputation for her work in that area: Mullin is a National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellow. Her presence on campus means the University can now boast of having two NSF Presidential Faculty Fellows. Albany biologist Caro-Beth Stewart was one of 15 scientists to receive the honor in 1994. Mullin was one of 15 so honored in 1993. Each receives $100,000 a year for five years in federal support for her research

"Professors Mullin and Stewart exemplify the spirit of the Presidential Faculty Fellow awards, which are designed to recognize excellence and promise both in research and in teaching ," says Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Judy Genshaft.

Mullin came to academe via industry. For 14 years, after her graduation from State University College at New Paltz, Mullin worked as a researcher with IBM Research in Yorktown Heights. She worked on the design and development of the APL Programming Language, IBM's strategic language for high performance scientific computing.

Her work at IBM led her back to school at Syracuse University for further studies first in physics and then in computer science, the field in which she earned her doctorate in 1988. Her studies, in turn, persuaded her to change her career track from the industrial world to the academic world, where she can combine research and teaching.

But even in her new career track, she says she applies a lot of what she learned at IBM.

"I try to bring the idea of teamwork to research. I like to include students from the freshman to advanced doctoral levels on my research team, and I've developed a multi-tiered mentoring system to assist everyone on the team. We have short-term goals and long-term goals," she says.

"There are many students here who really like computers," she notes. "One way I try to get them involved in the work my research group does is to start them out helping more advanced students with particular problems." Freshmen and sophomores get a taste of research and learn computer science skills by working as assistants to junior and senior mentors engaged in undergraduate research projects.

In her previous faculty positions at the University of Vermont and the University of Missouri-Rolla, Mullin says she used just such an approach and often found students developing a research direction of their own by their junior and senior years.

And by the time they graduate, says Mullin, her students "are marketable."

"I'm an 'applied' person. I'm looking for answers that will have real-world applications," says Mullin.

"I'm very interested in figuring out how to break down big, mathematically complex problems, into smaller problems that can then be distributed to, say, a series of computers that can then either concurrently or during their otherwise-idle hours do the necessary computing," she explains.

Take, for example, the complex computer models of weather and climate that the University's atmospheric scientists work with. Such models require enormous amounts of computing power. But, notes Mullin, time on supercomputers is limited and very expensive, and besides that, many scientists, while expert in their own fields, don't have the computer expertise necessary to effectively use a supercomputer.

Mullin's goal is to make it easier for scientists to harness computing power and to make more cost-effective use of available computing power. "On Saturdays, for example, the University's big computers may not be used very much. By linking them to, say, a series of Sun computers, we might have the necessary computer power for a complex problem," she says.

To that end, her main research focus is to develop an intermediate language to facilitate communication with a computer or computers by scientists who already understand the mathematics underlying their research projects. The intriguing sign on her door says "The Psi Compiler Project." A compiler, she explains, mechanically translates, mathematical notation into an efficient representation that runs on available networks and computing resources.

"Lenore already is collaborating on grant proposals with colleagues in other disciplines, and I am confident that she will be part of winning teams in both fundamental and applied research," observed Jeanne Gullahorn, vice president for research and dean of graduate studies.

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