Scientists often are challenged with creating solutions to inverse problems that involve looking at internal structures of an object based on measurements that can be made only from the object’s exterior. For instance, biomedical imaging looks inside the body without having to cut it open, and mining engineers seek underground images without having to do significant drilling.

While these tools are critical to helping researchers do their work, they can take a few days or even a few months to obtain a good solution. This lack of real-time solutions causes researchers difficulty in conducting accurate data analysis and making constructive decisions.

Julianne Chung, an assistant professor with the Department of Mathematics in the Virginia Tech College of Science, hopes to create more efficient and reliable methods.

Chung is using a five-year, $400,000 National Science Foundation CAREER grant to advance mathematical theory and create new tools to cut the costs and time scientists spend from their initial observations to making informed decisions.

“My research focuses on developing integrated approaches for obtaining real-time solutions to very large, nonlinear inverse problems and on designing practical tools for the analysis of these solutions,” said Chung, who also is a faculty member of the computational modeling and data analytics program, part of the College of Science’s Academy of Integrated Science. “The proposed research requires the integration of tools from applied mathematics, statistics, and scientific computing.”

With improved inversion algorithms and a reduction of computational costs, Chung said researchers across numerous fields will be able to solve larger and more complex problems. “The ultimate impact of this project will be improved medical diagnosis via advanced point-of-care imaging technologies, safer mines due to improved ground control monitoring of mining conditions, and advanced signal estimation for real-time analysis of physiological systems,” Chung said.

The CAREER grant is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award, given to creative junior faculty likely considered to become academic leaders of the future. Chung is one of three College of Science faculty to receive a CAREER Award this year, the first time that three faculty have won such funding in more than 10 years. The other two faculty members are F. Marc Michel of the Department of Geosciences and Kendra Sewell of the Department of Biological Sciences.

As part of the grant, Chung also will remain involved with the Science Museum of Western Virginia to help create and lead activities to interest youth in math and science. “Among other activities, I plan to develop an activity to use LEGO blocks for hands-on exploration of mathematics in 3-D image-processing applications,” Chung said. She also will organize a summer computer programming workshop for eighth- to 12th-grade girls in the New River Valley. “I am passionate about attracting students from a diverse population, with a special emphasis on women in STEM,” added Chung.

Chung earned a bachelor’s degree with highest honors in mathematics in 2004 and a doctorate in computational mathematics in 2009, both at Emory University. She was a U.S. Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellow and a National Science Foundation Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellow. Additional honors include being elected secretary of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics’ Activity Group on Imaging Science and the 2010 Department of Energy Frederick A. Howes Scholar in Computational Science Award.

Written by Jessie Rogers, of Suffolk, Virginia, a senior in the Department of English, part of the College Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

Share this story