Three Princeton scientists receive Presidential Award

U.S. President Barack Obama has named three Princeton scientists as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the federal government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

The awardees are: Joshua Breslau and Stefan Gerhardt, physicists at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), and Jason Petta, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics.

They are among 100 recipients who will receive their awards in the fall at a White House ceremony.

"These extraordinarily gifted young scientists and engineers represent the best in our country," 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."

The U.S. Department of Energy, which funds PPPL, nominated Breslau and Gerhardt for the awards.

Breslau is a research physicist in computational plasma physics. He was cited for playing an essential role in the development of the massively parallel fusion magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) computer code known as M3D and for his original and unique applications of this code to nonlinear dynamics. MHD refers to the dynamics of electrically conducting fluids such as plasmas, the hot gases used as the fuel to produce fusion energy.

He earned his Ph.D. in plasma physics from Princeton in 2001. He conducted postdoctoral research at PPPL for two years before joining the research staff in 2003.

Gerhardt is a staff physicist at PPPL and is conducting research on the National Spherical Torus Experiment, a fusion machine. He was cited for his innovative and seminal work in a broad range of magnetically confined plasmas and for his outstanding contributions to improving understanding of fundamental plasma physics in laboratory plasmas.

He joined the PPPL staff in 2004, after earning his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The U.S. Department of Defense nominated Petta for the award.

Petta is an experimental condensed matter physicist. He was cited for conducting leading research, including investigations into isolating single quantum states in semiconductor compounds by making super-small devices using advanced nanofabrication techniques. He also is studying how to control single quantum states in order to create "quantum bits," the elementary building blocks of a future quantum computer. In addition, he is performing experiments that will improve the understanding of how the fragile quantum states are destroyed due to interactions with the environment.

He earned his Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University in 2003. He worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University before joining the Princeton faculty in 2007.

The awards, established by President William Clinton in February 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected on the basis of two criteria: pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology; and a commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. Winning scientists and engineers receive up to a five-year research grant to further their study in support of critical government missions.

The awards, officials said, also embody the high priority the president's administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the nation's goals and contribute to all sectors of the economy. Nine federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate the most meritorious young scientists and engineers -- researchers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for strengthening America's leadership in science and technology and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions.