Princeton scientists win grants under new program tied to recovery funding

Feb. 8, 2010 10 a.m.

Three Princeton scientists working at the frontiers of physics have been notified they will receive awards under a new program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy that is designed to boost the American economy.

Valerie Halyo, an assistant professor of physics, Jong-Kyu Park, a staff research physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and Lian-Tao Wang, an assistant professor of physics, will receive grants as part of the agency's new Early Career Research Program.

The effort is designed to bolster the nation's scientific work force by providing support to researchers during the crucial early career years when many do formative work.

"This investment reflects the (Obama) administration's strong commitment to creating jobs and new industries through scientific innovation," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, announcing the awards. "Strong support of scientists in the early career years is crucial to renewing America's scientific work force and ensuring U.S. leadership in discovery and innovation for many years to come."

The grants will be drawn from $85 million in funds appropriated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"In setting aside funding for the Early Career Research Program in the recovery bill, we sent a signal that scientific research and development must continue, even during tough economic times," said U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, who helped the effort to provide $22 billion for science research and development in the recovery bill. "Innovation is central to our economic recovery, and the researchers who have earned this funding will help drive this innovation. I congratulate the recipients and look forward to seeing the fruits of their research."

To be eligible for an award, a researcher must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant professor at a U.S. academic institution or a full-time employee at a DOE national laboratory. Winners, whose work must be exceptional, were selected from among 1,750 applicants by scientific experts.

"We are proud to see so many stellar young scientists at Princeton and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory recognized with Early Career Awards from the U.S. Department of Energy for their excellence and promise in research," said A.J. Stewart Smith, Princeton's dean for research and the Class of 1909 Professor of Physics. "This support for the vanguard of innovation, made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, enables some of the world's leading scholars to engage in crucial research efforts that simultaneously deepen our fundamental understanding of the universe and demonstrate America's competitiveness in the fields of science and technology."

Other senior scientists familiar with the recipients' research said they easily meet the agency's standard of excellence.

"We are very pleased that Valerie Halyo and Lian-tao Wang have been singled out by the Department of Energy for this perfectly matched pair of awards," said Curtis Callan, the chair of the Department of Physics, noting that both work on the Large Hadron Collider, an international physics experiment in Switzerland. "The LHC is an incredibly complex enterprise whose success relies on the unique contributions of large numbers of talented and dedicated individuals, among whom, as these awards show, Lian-tao and Valerie stand out. Valerie is an experimentalist who has responsibility for one of the key elements of the (compact muon solenoid) detector at the LHC, and Lian-tao is a theorist who develops analysis strategies for detecting new physics in the welter of events captured by Valerie's detector."

Park was similarly lauded.

"As a student, Jong-Kyu Park made a seminal contribution to our understanding of how three-dimensional magnetic fields penetrate into a tokamak plasma," said PPPL Director Stewart Prager. "This well-deserved award will allow Jong-Kyu to provide new insights into how 3-D fields affect plasma behavior critical to fusion and tokamak physics in general."

Halyo has been awarded $750,000 over five years to develop what is known as a diamond pixel luminosity telescope to be used to detect particles produced during high-energy physics experiments. In addition to advancing high-energy physics, the work could lead to the development of techniques involving the use of synthetic diamond detectors in medical and space applications.

She earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University and conducted her postdoctoral studies at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. She came to Princeton in 2006.

Park will receive $2.5 million over five years to further his work on creating a numerical tool to calculate the effects of applying small amplitude, three-dimensional magnetic fields to fusion devices called tokamaks. These magnetic fields can significantly improve the ability of tokamak vessels to contain fusion reactions.

He received his Ph.D. in plasma physics from Princeton in 2009 and immediately joined the PPPL staff.

Wang will receive $750,000 over five years to support his work on developing new techniques, studying potential new signals, and exploring new models to facilitate the discovery and understanding of new physics that occur at energies above 1 trillion electron volts. By focusing on theoretical advances essential for the discovery and interpretation of new physics signals in the LHC era, Wang's work will support the exploration of some of the most pressing questions in physics, such as the nature of dark matter.

After earning his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Michigan, Wang conducted postdoctoral studies at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin. He came to Princeton in 2006.

In addition to the new DOE career awards, Princeton has received $24.9 million in Recovery Act funding in support of more than 60 research efforts in wide-ranging disciplines, and PPPL, a U.S. DOE laboratory managed by the University, has received $17 million for innovative research projects and infrastructure improvements.

The awards also will go to several scientists who have collaborated or are currently working on PPPL's National Spherical Torus Experiment, including: Jean-Paul Allain at Purdue University; Tobin Munsat at the University of Colorado; and Vsevolod Soukhanovskii at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Additionally, the program awarded grants to several Princeton graduates. In addition to Munsat, who earned his Ph.D. in astrophysical sciences in 2001, others winning grants include Stanislav Boldyrev of the University of Wisconsin, who earned his Ph.D. from Princeton in astrophysical sciences in 1999; Delia Milliron of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who earned her A.B. in chemistry in 1999; and David Shih of Rutgers University, who earned his Ph.D. in physics in 2006.