Among the recipients of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), announced by President Donald J. Trump July 2, is the NNSS’ own Dr. Marylesa Howard.
“The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology,” the White House’s announcement says.
Howard, an NNSS signal processing and applied mathematics scientist, is the sole Nevada recipient. A highly published researcher, she is an influential leader among scientists in Nevada, at the U.S. National Laboratories and at universities across the nation.
“I see this as being much bigger than me,” Howard said. “This is also about the NNSS being recognized for the powerful research enabled here. I came to the NNSS for a job, but what I’ve found here is much more than a job. It is a mission I’m proud to serve, groundbreaking research to which I can contribute and a sense of belonging among the people with whom I work. This is an absolute honor, one of which I would have never dreamed.”
Her capstone accomplishment is a new approach to image segmentation, where an automated method quantitatively determines which parts of an image correspond to different objects in a street scene, different materials in an X-ray image or different components of an item on an assembly line. Howard invented the first statistical method that allows a user to characterize parts of an image, but then automatically characterizes the rest of the image, even with the ability to correct any mistakes made by the user.
This novel technique has been incorporated into a software tool that has been copyrighted and licensed to Sandia National Laboratories, which is using the software in its thermal battery design department; Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is using the software in material studies; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which uses the approach to analyze explosives-driven experiments; and many universities, which are using Howard’s ideas in a wide range of sciences. In collaboration with MIT, this research was featured by the American Institute of Physics as one of its SciLight accomplishments of 2017.
“Marylesa’s technical contributions are vital to the security of our country,” said Mark Martinez, president of Mission Support and Test Services, the management and operating contractor for the NNSS. “Her work is integral to our mission, and I’m very proud to have her as part of the NNSS team.”
For more information about PECASE, see the White House’s release.