Using advanced computational techniques such as density functional theory and quantum Monte Carlo, Morales studies materials at extreme pressure and temperature on some of the world's most powerful supercomputers. His work is important to Stockpile Stewardship, the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) program to ensure the safety, security and reliability of the nation's nuclear deterrent without underground testing. In addition, this research also provides planetary scientists with a better understanding of planet formation.
"I'm very happy and honored to receive this award," said Morales, who joined LLNL's Condensed Matter Physics and Materials Division as a staff scientist in 2010.
The early career presidential awards are the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. Established by President Clinton in 1996, the awards are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach.
Morales was one of 13 US Department of Energy and 102 recipients overall. Awardees will be honored in a ceremony later this year. The award comes with a stipend distributed over five years. Past recipients have received up to $50,000 a year.
A native of Puerto Rico, Morales completed a double bachelor of science degree in theoretical physics and mathematics from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez (2004). He earned his Ph.D from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2009, where he studied under David Ceperley, a former Livermore scientist. Before being hired at Livermore, Morales was a postdoctoral researcher at Rice University.
Morales discovered his aptitude and passion for science as a 16-year-old in the wake of one of the hurricanes that periodically devastate Puerto Rico. As he waited for life on the island to return to normal, he picked up a science book.
"After the hurricane we spent a month without electricity and water. I started reading about Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein in an encyclopedia of science," Morales recalls. "I had no exposure to science before that and I was fascinated. I started buying and reading books about science and I became obsessed with math as well. I knew then that I would devote my life to science."
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