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EEB engineer scores $458K of early career support from NSF

Kevin Liu, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and an EEB core faculty member, will use a five-year $458,000 National Science Foundation Early Career Development (CAREER) Award to unlock next generation phylogenetics in search of new biological discoveries.

Portrait of Kevin Liu
Kevin Liu

The grant, Future phylogenies: Novel computational frameworks for biomolecular sequence analysis involving complex evolutionary origins, will develop new models and algorithms for complex analyses.

Liu, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, explained that phylogenetics uses computational analysis of DNA and other big data approaches to reconstruct and analyze the evolutionary history of a set of organisms.

"Phylogenies and the evolutionary insights that they provide are essential to biology and other disciplines," he explained. "Important examples include reconstructing and studying the Tree of Life - the evolutionary history of all life on Earth, understanding human origins, infectious disease epidemiology and discovery of new solutions to future pandemics, crop improvement and agriculture, and forensic science."

Liu said the project will address gaps in STEM education through new curriculum development and a collaboration with the Impression 5 Science Center, a children's science museum in Lansing, Michigan. Project impacts will be broadened through open-source software distributions and open data resources, new scientific discoveries enabled by the developed software and data infrastructure, scientific outreach activities, and student training and mentoring with a strong emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Liu is one of four engineering faculty members to receive the award this year, which total $1.88 million. 

Engineering Dean Leo Kempel said four more NSF CAREER Awards bring the college's total to 21 in the past five years.

"This is a very prestigious award for early career faculty members," Kempel said. "I know from personal experience that it can be transformational for a faculty member and allows them to investigate a new area of scholarship with secure funding for at least five years. I am very proud of all of my colleagues in the College of Engineering and look forward to how they transform their work into future innovations with the help of this support."

Liu received his PhD in computer science in 2011 from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to joining MSU in 2014, he was a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow at Rice University. His research interests are comparative genomics, computational biology, and bioinformatics.

Read the full story in The College of Engineering.