Newton Award Lifts Cutting-Edge Work of Two UC San Diego Professors to National Level

UC San Diego's Boris Kramer and Melvin Leok

I’m often blown away by the work of our faculty at UC San Diego. So I was not surprised when I read this week that two of our professors were among only 13 recipients of the Newton Award for Transformative Ideas during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Professor of Mathematics Melvin Leok and Assistant Professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Boris Kramer were selected from 548 submissions, from 184 institutions throughout 41 states and the District of Columbia. Their proposal to study and efficiently simulate complex interconnected systems for long-term analysis caught the attention of some of our nation’s leading engineers, mathematicians and scientists.

The award, named in honor of Sir Isaac Newton’s achievements in mathematics, optics, and gravitation during the Great Plague of London in 1665, sought “transformative ideas” to resolve challenges, advance frontiers, and set new paradigms in research of immense potential benefit to the U.S. Department of Defense and the nation at large during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The award committee challenged researchers to propose novel conceptual frameworks or theory-based approaches that utilized analytical reasoning, calculations, simulations, and thought experiments. The competition was open to affiliated researchers from degree-issuing institutions of higher education accredited in, and having a campus located in the U.S., its territories and possessions, as well as researchers from University Affiliated Research Centers.

Professor Leok is an expert in the structure of interconnected systems, and Professor Kramer is an expert in approximating traditionally expensive computational models with accurate but much cheaper surrogate models. In their submission, “Geometric Structure-Preserving Model Reduction for Large-Scale Interconnected Systems,” the two professors proposed collaborating to develope accurate, structure-preserving models of simpler mechanical interconnected systems, evolving on curved spaces, and extend them to larger scale engineering systems. 

The Newton Award recipients receive $50,000 over a six-month period of performance. At the end of the award period, the researchers will brief the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering leadership.

While the award is intended to support the principal investigators’ work, professors Leok and Kramer hope follow-up funding will support student involvement in their research.

This is what UC San Diego is all about. This is why we nurture and support a collaborative and interdisciplinary research culture that advances the frontiers of knowledge, shapes new fields, and disseminates discoveries that transform lives around the world. 

Congratulations, Professors Leok and Kramer. I can’t wait to see the evolution of your research and the impact your innovations will have on fellow faculty, our students, and the planet.