February 2012

Personal data movement

Ananth Kalyanaraman and Peter Lindstrom share more than a dedication to accelerating the handling of vast amounts of data. They’ve both traveled far and surmounted significant hurdles to become recipients of 2011 DOE Early Career Research Awards.

Kalyanaraman, 34, was attracted to biology while growing up in Chennai, a city on the Bay of Bengal in southeast India. But given the nascent IT boom around him and the intensely competitive entrance exam for medical training, he saw a logical future in computer science. In 1998, he scored an impressive 98.03 percent on India’s Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering, an exam similar to the U.S. subject-area GRE. With the resulting rank of 54th among thousands of students across the country, he had his pick of Indian graduate schools. He chose instead to accept a scholarship to study computer science at Iowa State University, where he was able to pursue his interest in biology with an emphasis on parallel computational biology.

“I found the grad schools in the United States much more aggressive when it comes to research. There’s a lot more fundamental research that goes on,” Kalyanaraman says.

For Peter Lindstrom, 42, college in the United States wasn’t a case of first pick but last resort. As a teenager, Lindstrom was an amateur tennis star in his native Sweden, a nation that was a global tennis powerhouse and claimed five-time Wimbledon winner Björn Borg. In high school Lindstrom spent more time on his crosscourt return than on calculus. But a mandatory year of national military service derailed his plan to take his racket professional and he didn’t make the cut when he applied to Swedish universities.

“I tried to get into college in Sweden, but my grades weren’t good enough,” Lindstrom says with a laugh.

Tennis did save the day. Lindstrom received an athletic scholarship to attend Elon College (now University) in North Carolina, where he proved his academic muscle before completing a Ph.D. at Georgia Tech.