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Computer scientist Judea Pearl wins 2015 Dickinson Prize in Science Award

Judea Pearl, a professor of computer science at UCLA, has been awarded Carnegie Mellon University’s 2015 Dickinson Prize in Science. The Dickinson Prize in Science was established in 1969 by physician Joseph Z. Dickinson and his wife Agnes Fisher Dickinson to award individuals in the United States who have made outstanding contributions to the field of science.

Pearl has been a faculty member at UCLA since 1970, and directs the University’s Cognitive Systems Laboratory. He is internationally known for his contributions to the fields of artificial intelligence, human cognition, and the philosophy of science. His work has not only influenced machine learning, but also computer vision, robotics, natural language processing, computational biology, econometrics, cognitive science, and statistics. This list of Pearl’s many accomplishments provides the basis for his earning this distinguished prize.

This highly esteemed award comes with a medal and a cash prize. A portion of this cash prize will be donated to Pearl’s alma mater, the Technion, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Another portion will be going to the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after Pearl’s son, a journalist, who was murdered in Pakistan in 2002.

Pearl will accept his award on Monday, Feb. 29, and will present the Dickinson Prize Lecture titled “Science, Counterfactuals, and Free Will” in the McConomy Auditorium in the University Center.

Carnegie Mellon study warns charging cars overnight causes harmful emissions

A study published this week in Environmental Research Letters by Carnegie Mellon faculty members warns that even though charging electric vehicles overnight puts less pressure on the power grids, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions outweigh the cost benefits.

The research was led by professor of mechanical engineering and engineering and public policy Jeremy Michalek. He and his team of researchers used the PJM Interconnection, which supplies electricity to most of the eastern United States, to model their work. They found that when electric vehicle drivers charge their cars overnight, the electricity is a quarter to a third cheaper to produce; however, this is because the grids switch to power from coal.

Coal plants tend to operate below capacity at night, so they are available to meet the increased need posed by charge cars. But these plants produce sulfur dioxide, which, according to Michalek, “can cause 50 percent higher costs to human health and the environment.”

In a separate study, Michalek and his team looked at the national effects of charging vehicles overnight. They confirmed that the effects on emissions that they discovered for the eastern United States are true across the country.

Michalek says that these effects may not be permanent, however. As the grid becomes cleaner and we phase out harmful energy sources such as coal, cleaner sources of energy will be able to fulfill the late-night need. But because the government has been slow to legislate for cleaner energy sources, this may take some time. In the meantime, Michalek and his team discourage overnight charging.