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National Science Foundation Recognizes Early Career Promise in the Research of Two Queens College Professors

--Award-Winning Research Focuses on Viral Pandemics

 and Microscopic Applications of Energy--


FLUSHING, NY, April 2, 2012—Queens College professors Luat Vuong (Physics) and John Dennehy (Biology) have been awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early CAREER Development Awards in recognition of their work. The awards, which carry substantial cash grants as well as cover overhead costs for the college, recognize and support outstanding research efforts by promising young scientists early in their careers. Over the past eight years, a total of eight QC professors have received this prestigious award, an exceptionally high number for one college.


Biology Professor John Dennehy’s research centers on how viruses infect new host types and spread pandemically in order to address the question of whether there are ways to predict which viruses are more likely than others to pose a global health threat. 

“There are numerous instances of viruses that have shifted from one host species to another,” says Dennehy, who resides in Flushing. “The classic example is HIV, which jumped from chimpanzees to humans with catastrophic consequences.”  But every virus that appears in humans doesn’t necessarily precipitate a public health crisis on the scale of HIV and AIDS. Past outbreaks of SARS and Avian influenza, Dennehy notes, “have never risen to the level of our fears.”  Dennehy theorizes that the population dynamics of these viruses in human populations is similar to their dynamics in bacterial populations, and so uses bacteria in his lab as a much more practical stand-in for humans.

In her work, Physics Professor Luat Vuong focuses on how polarized light produces electrical currents when it strikes sub-microscopic, nanoscaled nanostructures. “Nanostructures are small—smaller than the wavelengths of visible light,” she says. But her field of interest “is more than just physics,” she adds. “The phenomena and dynamics we probe also have potential implications for biology and chemistry.” In time, applications of Vuong’s research could lead to a new generation of optoelectronic devices, advances in energy harvesting, and the development of medical sensors.

In the classroom, as in the lab, Vuong, emphasizes the intersection of physics and other disciplines. That philosophy underlies her Modern Physics for Computer Scientists course. “There is more overlap between physics and computer science than is currently taught in the traditional curriculum,” she says. Professor Vuong lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Both Vuong and Dennehy are quick to acknowledge the contributions of the graduate and postgraduate students working with them in the lab. “They’re incredibly hard-working and have totally exceeded my expectations,” Vuong says. Apart from the professional recognition they confer, CAREER Development Awards provide funding support that can figure crucially in research efforts. “A grant like this enables me to give the students working with me the time and space they need to learn,” says Vuong. “That’s good for them—and good for science.”

Queens College of the City University of New York (CUNY), founded in 1937, is dedicated to the idea that a first-rate education should be accessible to talented individuals of all backgrounds and financial means. Its more than 20,000 students come from over 150 nations and speak scores of languages, creating an extraordinarily diverse and welcoming environment. Located on a beautiful, 77-acre campus in Flushing, Queens College enjoys a national reputation for its liberal arts and sciences and pre-professional programs. Each year Queens College has been cited by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s 100 “Best Value” colleges, thanks to its outstanding academics, generous financial aid packages, and relatively low costs. The college opened its first residence hall in August 2009. More info on Queens College at


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