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Desh Ranjan Is New Chair of Computer Science Department

Desh Ranjan, an internationally known computer scientist and teacher, has joined Old Dominion University as chair of the Department of Computer Science. He had been department head in computer science at New Mexico State University since 2004 and a member of that university's faculty since 1993.

Ranjan's research, for which he has received $15 million in grant support, has explored randomness in computation, computational complexity and efficient algorithm design. His contributions in the area of complexity theory and randomized completeness have been characterized as "direction opening" in the field.

Provost Carol Simpson and College of Sciences Dean Chris Platsoucas presided at a reception Wednesday, Sept. 9, formally welcoming Ranjan and his wife, Jing He, who is joining ODU as an associate professor of computer science. A special guest was Richard Cheng, who came to ODU in 1979 to be founding chair of the ODU Department of Computer Science. He went on to become a successful computer science entrepreneur who has made a generous gift to ODU to endow the Richard Cheng Chair in computer science.

Cheng, who was chair for five years, noted the advances of the department since he left and said he believes that Ranjan, "as a strong researcher and administrative leader," will take the department "to a new level of excellence."

"He brings new and innovative ideas to the department," Cheng said of Ranjan.

In his statement at the reception, Ranjan said supportive people at ODU made his decision to leave New Mexico State easier. "There is also the fact that here we have the opportunity to build something special," he said. "The university and the college have the vision to build strong programs and promote research."

He said he envisions an "outward-looking department" that is eager to collaborate on research with faculty members in all of ODU's colleges. He also said he hopes to expand the number of full-time faculty members who teach undergraduate courses.

In addition to being department chair at NMSU, Rangan served as director of the university's Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

"Desh Ranjan is an accomplished research investigator and teacher in computer science," Platsoucas said. "He is respected by his peers for a substantial number of highly original and seminal research contributions. His expertise and leadership will bolster our efforts to expand research and our educational programs in computer science."

The dean added that he welcomes Ranjan's goal to build multidisciplinary research collaborations between computer scientists and other researchers throughout the university and the country. "This will substantially enhance the educational opportunities that we offer to our students," Platsoucas said.

Ranjan succeeds Michael Overstreet, the associate dean of sciences who has been acting chair of the department for two years.

In recent years, Ranjan was a leading member of research teams that won two major National Science Foundation (NSF) awards: $4.5 million for a Center for Research Excellence in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, as well as $3 million for Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) in computational molecular biology. NMSU is a partner in the IGERT grant with Iowa State University.

His research has had a wide scope. He was a co-principal investigator on a $1.86 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant focused on hantavirus ecology. Another NSF grant, this one for $1.5 million, involved Ranjan in the project, "Dynamic and Irregular Parallelism: Its Management in Symbolic and Scientific Computing."

Platsoucas noted that considerable grant support for Ranjan will be transferred to ODU.

The new chair was honored as an NMSU Millionaire Researcher and also received awards from the university for faculty achievement and exceptional achievements in creative scholarly activity. He is the author of approximately 60 refereed journal and conference articles and book chapters, as well as two computer science textbooks.

Ranjan received his bachelor of technology degree in computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur. His master's and doctoral degrees are from Cornell University, where his mentor was the distinguished computer scientist Juris Hartmanis. Ranjan served as a postdoctoral fellow and visiting research scientist at the Max Planck Institut for Informatics in Germany and also as a visiting researcher at Chalmers University in Sweden.

Jing He was granted tenure as an associate professor in the computer science department at NMSU and served as an adjunct faculty member in the molecular biology program. She has an independent research program in the area of bioinformatics that has been/is supported by grants from the NSF, NIH and U.S. Army. Her Ph.D. from Baylor University College of Medicine is in structural and computational biology and molecular biophysics.

"She has mentored a number of Ph.D. and masters' students and she has excelled as a research investigator and teacher," Platsoucas said. "We're very pleased to have her here with us."

The couple has three children, the eldest aged 8 and twins who are 3.

This article was posted on: September 28, 2009

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