Ferguson Earns Young Investigator Award

Ben Taylor, Engineering Communications Office

Andrew Ferguson, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is the recipient of the 2016 Young Investigator Award for Modeling and Simulation, from the Computational Molecular Science and Engineering Forum (CoMSEF) of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). The award recognizes outstanding research in computational molecular science and engineering by researchers within seven years of completion of their highest degree.

Ferguson, who also holds affiliate appointments in chemical and biomolecular engineering and in computational science and engineering, earned the honor for his development and application of statistical thermodynamics and machine learning to computational immunology and vaccine design. He has created an innovative approach to quantify how efficiently viruses can replicate within a host as a function of the virus’ genetic sequence.

“This achievement offers, for the first time, a means to empirically define the sequence-fitness relationship underpinning viral function and viability,” Ferguson said. “So far, we have been able to use these viral fitness landscapes to rationally design vaccine candidates against HIV and hepatitis C, and also have begun to apply this technology to develop improved seasonal influenza vaccines.”

This ability to rationally design vaccine candidates is a major improvement over the experimental trial-and-error vaccine development that has been used to date against viral pathogens such as hepatitis C, dengue fever, and HIV.

Ferguson joined the Illinois faculty in 2012, and earned the National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2014. He also was named the Young Chemical Engineer of the Year Award for North America by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) in 2013.