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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 12, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 34
Smolensky of Cog Sci Appointed to International Pascal Research Chair

By Lisa De Nike

Paul Smolensky, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins, has been appointed to an International Blaise Pascal Research Chair by the École Normale Supérieure, a prestigious French institution of higher education.

The first cognitive scientist to receive this honor since the program's inception in 1996, Smolensky was one of five recipients in areas ranging from the sciences and social sciences to the humanities.

Smolensky will spend a year in Paris conducting research and consulting with colleagues in a diverse set of fields ranging from neurosciences to psycholinguistics to the philosophy of science. His project, titled "Formal Foundations of Abstraction in Linguistic Cognitive Science," involves building formal mathematical characterizations of the abstractions central to the theory of language within cognitive science.

"As far as my reaction to the news that I was appointed to this chair, I was shocked; it felt like winning the French lottery," Smolensky said.

Barbara Landau, the Dick and Lydia Todd Professor and chair of Cognitive Science, said that Smolensky richly deserves the honor.

"Our department has long recognized how very special Dr. Smolensky is," she said. "His vision and energy have shaped our department over the years, and his contributions to cognitive science have elevated our field. We are gratified that the international community has recognized these contributions by naming him to the Chaire Blaise Pascal." Smolensky will be on sabbatical from Johns Hopkins for the 2008-2009 academic year.

He earned his bachelor's degree in physics from Harvard University in 1976, his master's degree in physics at Indiana University in 1977 and his doctorate in mathematical physics at Indiana in 1981.

The chair is named for Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher who made important contributions to the construction of mechanical calculators, the study of fluids and the concepts of pressure and vacuum.


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