WASHINGTON, July 13, 2009 -- Scientists and engineers focused on photonics-related work in nanoscale biosensing, plasmonics and rare earth-emitters, metamaterials, nanomaterials, and quantum optics are among the 100 beginning researchers named by President Barack Obama Friday as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the US government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.
The awards, which can total as much as $1 million over as long as five years, were established by President Clinton in 1996. Individuals cannot apply for the PECASE. Nine federal departments and agencies, including the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DoE), nominate researchers based on their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service. (For a complete list of the 2009 winners, click here
"These extraordinarily gifted young scientists and engineers represent the best in our country," President Obama said. "With their talent, creativity, and dedication, I am confident that they will lead their fields in new breakthroughs and discoveries and help us use science and technology to lift up our nation and our world."
Sharon Weiss, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., was nominated for the PECASE by the Army Research Office, Department of Defense. Her research involves sensors made from porous silicon, a material with billions of tiny nanometer-sized holes (1000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair). The extraordinarily large internal surface area of porous silicon facilitates the capture of biomolocules. By evaluating how light interacts with the porous silicon, it is possible to detect the presence of trace amounts of biological material. Sensors made in her photonic crystals laboratory have been used to identify specific DNA sequences and will be used to detect various toxins and viruses.
"I am honored that my nanoscale biosensing research will be recognized on the national stage," Weiss said. "I hope it helps emphasize the importance of accurate and reliable detection of biological and chemical materials that is essential for improved medical diagnostics, environmental monitoring, and homeland security."
Rashid Zia, assistant professor of engineering at Brown University in Rhode Island, was selected by the Department of Defense for his research that focuses on the intersection of plasmonics and rare-earth emitters. Plasmonics is important because it studies the direct connection between electrical devices (those that use charge) and photonic devices (those that use light). The field "potentially offers the speed and bandwidth of optics at the nanosize scale of electronics," Zia said.
Zia is also looking at lanthanide ions, the rare-earth materials that have been used as light emitters in a range of technologies from fluorescent lighting and color displays to lasers and fiber-optic amplifiers.
"We're using (lanthanides) in a new way," Zia said of his Laboratory for Subwavelength Optics. "Most light is emitted by electrical dipole transitions. We're looking at magnetic dipole transitions."
Anthony Grbic, an assistant professor in the department of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, will use his award to pursue his research interests, which include engineered electromagnetic structures (metamaterials, frequency selective surfaces, photonic crystals, electromagnetic bandgap structures), antennas and wireless components, microwave circuits, analytical electromagnetic modeling, plasmonics and subwavelength optics.
The research group of PECASE recipient Xiaolin Zheng, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, is interested in the interface among nanoscale science and technology, biology and energy conversion. Specifically, synthesis and assembly of functional nanomaterials, understanding the physical and chemical processes involved in the synthesis, elucidation of the fundamental properties of nanomaterials, applying nanomaterials intelligently in energy conversion systems and nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) to fully exploit their ubiquitous properties.
Award winner Tanya Zelevinsky of Columbia University is an experimental atomic, molecular, and optical physicist. Her interests include ultracold atoms and their applications to precision measurements, quantum optics, atomic clocks, and ultracold chemistry.
The research group of recipient Mathew M. Maye, an assistant professor at Syracuse University, uses their background in research in inorganic chemistry, materials science, biomaterials, analytical chemistry, soft nanotechnology, catalysis, and self-assembly to gain a unique perspective on current limitations in energy conversion/storage and national security capabilities. His team is exploring a number of conventional and unconventional approaches towards the synthesis of nanoparticles for applications as catalysts, LEDs, and photovoltaics.
Michael Hochberg, assistant professor of photonics at the University of Washington in Seattle, will use his award to advance his research into using silicon photonics as a way to build optical devices and as a way to explore new physical phenomena.
According to his nanophotonics lab's Web site, "Our projects span the space between very applied work on devices like ultralow voltage electro-optic modulators, to interest in chip-scale nonlinear and quantum optics for novel light sources and all-optical logic circuits."
University of California, Riverside physicist and associate professor of physics Chun Ning Lau was recognized for her investigations of the electrical properties of graphene, a material made from a single layer of carbon atoms. Graphene is being pursued as a supplement to or replacement for silicon in electronic circuits.
Lau, who also is a member of UCR's Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE), also studies nanowires and carbon nanotubes. Her research has helped physicists gain fundamental understanding of how atoms and electrons behave when they are ruled by quantum mechanics. Her lab studies novel electrical properties that arise from the quantum confinement of atoms and charges to nanoscale systems. Her research team has shown that graphene can act as an atomic-scale billiard table, with electric charges acting as billiard balls.
PECASE winner Charles R. Keeton II, assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., studies gravitational lensing, an effect of Einstein's theory of relativity in which distant galaxies bend light with their gravity. He is developing new theoretical and observational methods to characterize dark matter - the invisible substance that pervades the universe and governs how galaxies form and evolve.
Jeff Neaton, director of the Theory of Nanostructured Materials Facility with the Molecular Foundry, a DoE nanoscience research center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was recognized for his theoretical and computational approaches to understanding and controlling novel physical phenomena at the nanoscale, with applications to nanoelectronics and energy.
His research focuses on the electronic and transport properties of inorganic nanowires, metal-organic interfaces and single-molecule junction conductance with potential applications to photovoltaics and organic electronics. He is also involved in Berkeley Lab's Helios Solar Energy Research Center, where he is studying nanoscale approaches to renewable fuels from sunlight, and several other basic energy research initiatives.
The winners will receive their awards at a White House ceremony in the fall. For more information, visit: http://www.er.doe.gov/Accomplishments_Awards/PECASE/PECASE.htmMelinda Rose