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CMU professor wins science honor

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By Bill Zlatos
Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, 11:48 p.m.

Yongjie “Jessica” Zhang got an early present on Monday, straight from the White House.

Zhang, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, was one of 102 researchers given the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor the government bestows on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their careers. Winners will get their awards at a ceremony next year in Washington.

“It's a very nice gift to me for Christmas,” said Zhang, 40, of Squirrel Hill.

She received her award on behalf of the Defense Department. She is building a computer model for analyzing the best design of a ship for the Navy.

University spokeswoman Chriss Swaney said Zhang is the second CMU faculty member to receive the award. David Brumley, an assistant professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science departments, was a 2010 winner.

“The impressive achievements of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead,” President Obama said in a news release. “We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America's global leadership for many years to come.”

Winners are chosen for their “pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service.”

Zhang grew up in the Henan province of central China and received a doctoral degree in computational engineering and sciences from the University of Texas at Austin. She arrived at Carnegie Mellon in 2007 and has co-authored more than 80 journal and conference publications, along with four book chapters.

Her husband, Jianguang “Jason” Sun, is a research scientist in information technology at the University of Pittsburgh. The couple has two children, Ada and Amy Sun.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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