Laboratory scientists win four Office of Science Early Career Research Program awards

May. 16, 2012

The four Laboratory scientists Early Career Research Program award recipients are, from left: Andreas Kemp, Celine Bonfils, Gianpaolo Carosi and Jaime Marian. Photo by Jacqueline McBride/LLNL (Download Image)

Laboratory scientists win four Office of Science Early Career Research Program awards

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- Four Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists have earned $10 million in funding through the Department of Energy Office of Science Early Career Research Program (ECRP).

"Early career" is defined as principal investigators (PIs) who are within 10 years of receiving a doctorate and are either untenured assistant professors on the tenure track, untenured associate professors on the tenure track, or full-time, non-postdoctoral, permanent DOE national laboratory employees. The PI must be employed by either a U.S. academic institution or a DOE national laboratory.

This year, the Office of Science awarded 68 recipients out of a total of 850 proposals. In comparison to other DOE labs, Livermore tied with Oak Ridge and Argonne national laboratories, which all won four awards each.

The five-year awards are designed to bolster the nation's scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work.

Celine Bonfils, a climate scientist in the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) within the Atmospheric, Earth and Energy Division, earned the award for detection and attribution of regional climate change with a focus on the precursors of droughts. Bonfils was selected by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research.

"I have been extremely fortunate to work with amazing mentors who believed in me and guided me in my research," Bonfils said. "Over the past SEVEN years at PCMDI, I have been the privileged witness of outstanding research on the nature and causes of climate change. I also have been truly inspired by the courage, dedication and insatiable curiosity of my mentors and colleagues."

Bonfils plans to look into the naturally driven and externally forced components of known major large-scale subtropical drought precursors, such as specific changes in atmospheric circulation and ocean surface temperatures. The work will extend her exploratory research in this area originally funded by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program.

"Ultimately, this funding will help with the understanding of how drought mechanisms may change in the future in response to increased greenhouse gas emissions and stratospheric ozone concentrations recovery, and how their relative contributions may change in the future," she said.

Gianpaolo Carosi, a particle physicist in the Physics Division, won the award for his work in search of dark matter axions with new high-frequency tunable microwave cavities. He was selected by the Office of High Energy Physics.

"I'm ecstatic," Carosi said. "It is an honor to get such a vote of confidence for this line of research."

Carosi plans to focus on developing new microwave cavity structures and integrating them into the main Axion Dark Matter (ADMX) experiment to get a better idea of the mass of axions. Dark matter is an unknown type of matter that is estimated to make up more than 80 percent of the universe. It neither emits or absorbs light or other radiation so it can't be seen directly with telescopes.

"We are looking at developing a 'hybrid cavity' concept, which will see the inner cylinder of our microwave cavities coated in a thin superconducting film," he said. "The idea is that, with a thin enough film of the right material, the walls will remain superconducting even in the presence of a strong parallel magnetic field."

Axions (a hypothetical elementary particle) are a very interesting cold dark matter candidate. Carosi said if discovered, axions could have some very interesting properties. They are extremely light and "cold" (or slow moving) and would have very long wavelengths (100s of meters to potentially thousands of kilometers). "This could lead to very interesting macroscopic quantum mechanical experiments and, information encoded in the dark matter axion signal could tell us a lot about the formation of the galaxy," he said.

Andreas Kemp, a physicist in the Physics Division, earned his award for large-scale modeling of intense short-pulse laser interaction for High Energy Density Laser Physics (HEDLP). Kemp was selected by the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences.

Kemp plans to work on full-scale simulations of recent Titan laser experiments at the Lab to better understand the angular distribution of energetic electrons generated in the short-pulse laser interaction, and the implications for fast ignition.

Jaime Marian, an engineer in the Materials Science Division, won the award for his work in computational modeling and design of radiation-tolerant materials for fusion. He was selected by the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences.

Marian said his research has benefited tremendously from the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program.

"This allows me to be that much closer to the materials research community at large, and where the decisions about fusion materials are made," he said.

Marian plans to focus on high temperature metallic materials for fusion environments, such as oxide strengthened steels, and refractory alloys based on tungsten. He also will look at metallic glasses and amorphous materials.