Computer scientist receives NSF's prestigious CAREER Award
By Melissa Vasquez
Posted: 03/31/2009
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Dr. Bin Fu, assistant professor in Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas-Pan American, has become the second faculty member on the Edinburg campus to receive the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious honor, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award.

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Dr. Bin Fu, assistant professor in Department of Computer Science, explains his research in the areas of theoretical computer science and bioinformatics, which won him the NSF CAREER Award.

The NSF accolade is presented to junior faculty members at CAREER-eligible organizations who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. Dr. Karen Lozano, mechanical engineering associate professor who holds the Julia Beecherl Professorship in Engineering at UTPA, won the honor in 2001.

“The CAREER Award is a dream for many tenure track faculty members. Before receiving the confirmation from NSF, I did not even believe it would be true for me,” Fu said. “I hope this will encourage more junior faculty members at UTPA to join this national competition.”

Fu’s winning CAREER proposal titled “CAREER: Theories and Applications of Efficient Separator and Randomization” was awarded $409,157 in funds for a five-year period starting April 1, 2009 through March 31, 2014.

“Now that my research plan has been recognized by the National Science Foundation I feel more confident about what I would like to pursue in both research and education. I am also very grateful to many of my UTPA colleagues for their selfless help to let me get where I am,” Fu said.

The NSF CAREER Award recognized Fu’s research on theoretical computer science and bioinformatics in which he systematically developed a kind of separator theory, dubbed “the width-bounded separator.”

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, bioinformatics is the merging of biology, computer science, and information technology into one field and can be used in the exploration of genetic diseases or the development of new drugs. DNA and protein sequences are mapped and analyzed through bioinformatics. Computer programs are used to make inferences from the data archives of molecular biology to make connections among them, and to derive useful and interesting predictions Fu said.

“A separator is a basic computational tool that decomposes a large problem into smaller and smaller problems. Therefore, creating efficient computer algorithms and software,” Fu said. “Our society is facing a lot of challenging computational problems and one of the most challenging is the protein folding problem, which asks to determine a protein 3D structure from its amino sequence. This is where the width bounded separator theory originated from for me. The research of 3D protein structures has significant applications in drug design."

"It is a really wonderful experience for me to see the interaction between life science and information science," he added.

Originally from China, Fu joined the UTPA faculty in August 2006. He previously worked at the University of New Orleans for three and a half years as an assistant professor and for five years served as a lecturer at the Beijing Computer Institute.

He received his Ph.D. in computer science from Yale University in 1998 and also studied at Princeton University for a brief time. Fu earned his Master and Bachelor of Science in computer science from Wuhan University in Wuhan, P.R.China.

Fu’s area of expertise in the areas of computer science includes bioinformatics (protein folding), algorithms (width-bounded separator theory, Rocchio's relevance feedback algorithm analysis, and Abelian group factorization), complexity theory, and molecular computing.

With the NSF grant, Fu said he plans to support two graduate student researchers to assist with the research and later fund undergraduate research students.

“It is very important that UTPA students join this research, which has both theoretical development and software simulation,” Fu said. “Students involved in this research will develop the computational algorithms and software in protein structure analysis, which includes the structure comparison and prediction."

Fu said he currently has a productive group who has successfully set up a cluster of computers to provide a bioinformatics Web service designed as a tool to compare protein 3D structures. A user of the site can input structures by either Protein Data Bank (PDB) codes or by uploading PDB format files from a local computer. His Web service is open for public access via his UTPA Web site at

Dr. Wendy Lawrence-Fowler, UTPA vice provost for research and sponsored projects, said Fu’s CAREER Award for his research at UTPA exhibits the caliber of faculty on the campus, which is on a mission to become the premier learner-centered research institution in Texas.

“Dr. Fu has made significant contributions to the field of computer science and his receipt of this award speaks to the quality of faculty in the School of Engineering and Computer Science,” Lawrence-Fowler said.