Princeton University engineering senior Kay Ousterhout, has a new opportunity to deepen her passion for science after receiving $250,000 in no-strings-attached research funding.

Ousterhout, a computer science major, was one of two Princeton students and 15 students nationwide to receive a prestigious fellowship from the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation that provides funding for five years of doctoral study, during which she can tackle whatever scientific challenges she chooses.

The other Princeton recipient was Cameron Myhrvold, a molecular biology major.

Myhrvold and Ousterhout were chosen from nearly 600 applicants for the Hertz Fellowship. Students in the applied sciences and engineering are selected as fellows based on their intellect, ingenuity and potential to bring change to society, according to the Hertz Foundation.

Ousterhout, a computer science major from Palo Alto, Calif., plans to use the fellowship funding to pursue research relating to the flow of data across the Internet by focusing on distributed systems and networking, areas of computer science that center on using multiple computers working together to process information. She has been accepted to several doctoral programs and is deciding which she will attend.

“In the past, innovating in computer networks has been limited by the difficulty of building networking hardware for each new protocol,” she said. Ousterhout expects to use the new computing platform called OpenFlow, which she said “has solved this problem and has unlocked a new wave of innovation in computer networks,” to “help build tomorrow’s Internet.”

Ousterhout has participated in several related research projects at Princeton. During her junior year, she worked with Michael Freedman, an assistant professor of computer science, to develop more secure methods of operating large systems that require hundreds or thousands of servers, each which may exhibit a variety of types of failures. She also worked with Freedman on SCAFFOLD (Service-Centric Architecture for Flexible Object Localization and Distribution), a new architecture designed to better handle modern Internet services.

For her senior thesis, Ousterhout is working with Jennifer Rexford, a professor of computer science, on developing more efficient ways to control the flow of traffic through the Internet. “The Internet was built in an ad-hoc manner, and the current mechanisms controlling traffic flow are highly inefficient,” she said. “Today’s service providers struggle to control the flow of data through the core networks.” Ousterhout hopes that her senior thesis research will help mitigate this problem.

During her summer breaks, Ousterhout interned for Google as a software engineer, most recently in the company’s Sydney office working on Google Docs, its suite of Web-based office software. Ousterhout’s technical interests have been a common thread throughout her extracurricular activities: tutoring freshmen in math; working on the Web team at the Daily Princetonian student newspaper; serving as a lab teaching assistant for introductory computer science courses; and building a website and helping digitize the admission process for Cap and Gown, her eating club.

Along with senior Jennifer King, she co-founded Princeton Women in Computer Science, an organization dedicated to providing support and mentoring to women interested in computer science.