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Three young Stanford faculty members receive presidential award

The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding researchers early in their careers. Each of the three Stanford recipients will receive up to five years of federal funding to pursue important research.

Three Stanford faculty members, two from the School of Engineering and one from the Physics Department, have each won a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

The award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their research careers. PECASE winners are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and for their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach.  

The winners will receive research grants to pursue their research for up to five more years.

The three Stanford recipients – Sigrid Close, Jennifer Dionne and Sean Hartnoll – have contributed to science in a variety of areas.

Sigrid Close, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, is among 19 National Science Foundation-funded researchers to receive the award.

L.A. CiceroSigrid Close

Sigrid Close

Close was honored for her "unique and fascinating discoveries related to the effects of meteoroid impacts on the atmosphere and spacecraft, leading to new understanding and practical benefits."

Close discovered that radio frequency emissions are associated with the expanding plasmas from these impacts, offering a means to diagnose effects and study target characteristics. She developed the first electromagnetic scattering model for meteoroid plasma formed in Earth's atmosphere. The model allows determination of meteor mass from the plasma measurements. Her meteoroid investigations have led her to design experiments to develop hypervelocity threat models for future space commercialization applications.

"Studying the space environment and its effects on our global community continues to be an important area of research, especially as we look toward extending human presence deeper into space," Close said. "I am very honored and grateful to the selection committee for choosing to highlight my work in this field for recognition with a PECASE award."

Jennifer Dionne, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, is one of 16 U.S. Department of Defense-funded researchers

Courtesy Jennifer DionneJennifer Dionne

Jennifer Dionne

to receive this year's PECASE. Dionne's research develops new optical metamaterials: engineered materials with optical and electrical properties not found in nature. She then uses these materials to directly visualize, probe and control nanoscale systems and phenomena, particularly those relevant to energy and biology.

"I feel humbled and honored to receive this award." Dionne said. "I know that my success would not be possible without the incredible support of other faculty, students and staff at Stanford."

Among numerous research contributions, Dionne and coworkers designed a broadband negative index material, demonstrated negative refraction at visible wavelengths, developed a sub-wavelength silicon electro-optic modulator, proposed a new technique for direct optical tweezing of small particles and proteins, and helped unravel the properties of plasmons in the quantum-size regime.

Sean Hartnoll, an assistant professor of physics, received the PECASE along with 12 other Department of Energy-funded researchers. Hartnoll was chosen for his "innovative interdisciplinary research on holographic duality, a set of sophisticated theoretical ideas and tools developed over the last decade as part of string theory to gain insight into both high energy physics and condensed matter physics."

Courtesy Sean HartnollSean Hartnoll

Sean Hartnoll

In particular, Hartnoll has worked to precisely apply the theoretical math that explains gravitational perturbations in and around black holes to better understand what causes electrons to flow erratically through high-temperature superconductors. Although scientists have been studying exotic metals that are  superconducting at halfway to room temperature for several decades, they still don't have a strong understanding of how they work.

"In the broader context of things, it may sound pretty crazy, but we're making progress toward understanding electron flow along a high-temperature superconductor by applying a better understanding of the physics of black holes," Hartnoll said. "The equations are reasonably well-understood, and the next step is to find a concrete experimental system where these ideas can be applied. The hope is that, ultimately, a deeper understanding of these phenomena will help us to push superconductivity even warmer to room temperature, which could lead to revolutionary technologies."

The winners will be recognized at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., later this year.

"The impressive achievements of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead," President Obama said of the 102 PECASE winners. "We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America's global leadership for many years to come."