Newly Named Cullen Professor Uses Mathematics to Benefit Heart Research

Photo of Suncica CanicA University of Houston researcher who is bridging the fields of mathematics and biology has received one of the university’s most prestigious recognitions.

Suncica Canic, who in using mathematical models to improve artery stents in collaboration with a Texas Heart Institute cardiologist, recently was named a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor in Mathematics.

Earlier this year Canic also became director of the newly formed Center for Mathematical Biosciences, which aims to integrate advanced mathematics with medical research to achieve medical breakthroughs. The center comprises three dozen UH researchers, including 14 bioscience mathematicians, and Rice University and Texas Medical Center collaborators.

Canic currently has research awards from the National Science Foundation, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and UH totaling $2.16 million. This past summer she testified before Congress on behalf of the Coalition for National Science Funding.

Such notable achievements are among reasons why Canic merited the distinguished professorship, said John Bear, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

“She’s an emerging force in the field of biomathematics worldwide,” Bear said.

Canic said the award is “recognition of excellence for the mathematics department at the University of Houston, together with me as a catalyst, to the interdisciplinary research at the interface between mathematics and cardiovascular sciences.”

“I hope that we will live up to the expectation,” she said, “and continue to unearth new scientific discoveries by using and developing sophisticated mathematics as a tool towards understanding why and how nature works.”

Her nomination for the professorship originated with Jeff Morgan, chair of the Department of Mathematics, with support from Bear. A committee of five Cullen Professors, chaired by Donald Kouri, Cullen Professor of Chemistry, reviewed her qualifications before recommending her to the provost.

“All of the aspects of being a professor are weighed. It’s not just research,” Kouri said. “You also consider teaching, service to the university and to one’s profession.”

The committee solicited input from outside the university and received letters from five “world-class mathematicians,” he said. “All of these were glowing.”

The Cullen professorship comes with $36,600 per year to help support Canic’s work, including research. The Center for Mathematical Biosciences will use the award to bring in lecturers and support students and as seed money to fund “new, exploratory, high-risk research that is not typically funded by the standard NSF grants,” Canic said.

Canic earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Zagreb in Croatia and a doctorate from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Prior to joining the UH faculty in 1998, she was a Fields Fellow at the Fields Institute in Canada. She also held several visiting positions at Stanford University, New York University’s Courant Institute, SUNY Stony Brook, and the University of Lyon in France. She also was a post-doctoral fellow at UH.

The Houston chapter of the Association for Women in Computing named Canic one of the city’s top women in technology in 2005.