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Strengthening Today's Science Talent to Become Tomorrow's Science Leaders

December 15, 2010 - 11:56am

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A hidden strength of science is its diversity.

That strength was visible yesterday as the Energy Department celebrated its 13 winners of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Secretary Chu, Principal Deputy Administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration Neile L. Miller and Undersecretary for Science Steve Koonin joined me in honoring these awardees, outstanding in science and service. 

Three winners came from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Sergei V. Kalinin won for applying his insights into scanning probe microscopy principles to fundamental research in phase transitions and energy conversion on the nanoscale. De-en Jiang combined chemistry and computing to pioneer research in novel properties of nanostructures and chemically modified interfaces for chemical problems in separations and catalysis. And Jeremy Busby led an investigation into using an innovative cast stainless steel for the first wall of the international ITER project. ITER is dedicated to demonstrating the scientific and technological feasibility of using fusion energy. Fusion energy is blazing stuff – it powers stars – and bringing it to earth in controlled and sustainable fashion requires brawny stuff, the advanced materials that Dr. Busby studies.

There were also three winners in the Midwest, two for looking at the Lilliputian and other at the Brobdingnagian. Dillon Fong, from Argonne National Laboratory, contributed to the understanding of nanoscale size effects on ferroelectric behavior, discovering that the property can persist in extremely thin films. He also made a variety of other advances important to the development of new materials for energy technologies. His colleague, Elena Shevchenko, developed breakthrough research techniques for assembling supercrystals with a variety of unique properties in controllable fashion.

Juan Estrada, a physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, looked at the larger... the universe. He contributed to high-energy physics and particle astrophysics experiments, and also invented a detector concept that can extend searches for dark matter particles into a new range.

Gavin E. Crooks, from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, focused on developing a fundamental understanding of tiny molecular machines. He developed better ways to describe the heat and energy flows in those systems by developing the Crooks Fluctuation Theorem of statistical mechanics. Trent R. Northen, a colleague at Lawrence, looked at the process of metabolism – the chemical reactions critters use to maintain life – in incisive ways. Possible applications for his analyses range from developing better biofuels to deploying microbes for environmental cleanups.

Jacob Hooker and his colleagues at the Energy Department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory developed new tools to track and measure biochemical transformations and the movement of complex molecules in living systems. The work has potential applications in the study of cancers and clinical neuroscience.

In contrast, Eric Bauer from New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory studied condensed matter physics research. He did pioneering work in the research and discovery and synthesis of new materials, and also determined their novel physical properties.

Coming finally to California, Jacob Wacker of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory developed strategies that will assist accelerators in searching for new particles at the highest energies. His colleague at Stanford, Gianluca Iaccarino was nominated for the PECASE by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Office of Defense Programs for contributions to two turbulent flows. His work in computational fluid dynamics has applications in everything from analysis of wind turbines to thermal management in batteries. He also leads the effort on Quantification of Margins and Uncertainties at Stanford, which is a decision-making computational framework aimed at managing risks associated to high-consequence systems.

Ilke Arslan of the University of California, Davis was nominated by Sandia National Laboratories and NNSA’s Office of Defense Programs for her contributions to national security by establishing a strong research program on porous nanomaterials. “Porous” is rarely celebrated with “national security,” but Dr. Arslan’s work is an exception. Hydrogen is potentially a cleaner energy source than conventional hydrocarbons like gasoline, but it also needs careful storage. Porous nanomaterials might work since they might provide a large energy storage area in a limited-size space. Dr. Arslan advanced the three-dimensional imaging of such materials, which could make a real difference to both national security and the global economy.

Diverse as their researches, the 13 PECASE winners are tied together by a common thread: A commitment to imagination, to inspiration and to achievement, to the relentless quest for understanding for the betterment of us all.

For more information on the Office of Science and the PECASE Awardees, please go to: http://www.science.doe.gov/.

Dr. Bill Brinkman is the Director of the Office of Science.

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