early career research award winners 2021

The five recipients are, clockwise from top: Robert Saye, Heather Crawford, Marcos Turqueti, Simone Pagan Griso, and Benjamin Cole.

Five scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science to receive funding through the Early Career Research Program (ECRP).

The program, now in its 12th year, is designed to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the first 10 years following their PhD, when many scientists do their most formative work. 

The five Berkeley Lab recipients are among 32 national lab scientists and 51 university scientists selected.

“Maintaining our nation’s braintrust of world-class scientists and researchers is one of DOE’s top priorities – and that means we need to give them the resources they need to succeed early on in their careers,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “These awardees show exceptional potential to help us tackle America’s toughest challenges and secure our economic competitiveness for decades to come.” 

Under the program, researchers based at DOE national laboratories will receive $500,000 per year, for five years, to cover salary and research expenses.

This year’s Berkeley Lab awardees and their projects are listed below:

Benjamin Cole is a research scientist at the DOE Joint Genome Institute, an Office of Science user facility within Berkeley Lab’s Biosciences Area. Cole’s research is focused on exploring how plants respond and adapt to their physical or biological surroundings using functional genomics strategies.

His award is for a project that will employ cutting-edge sequencing and molecular profiling techniques to examine the genes and gene-regulating processes underlying how individual cells in two prominent bioenergy crops – sorghum and switchgrass – respond to drought and nutrient limitation. The work will also investigate how beneficial fungi and bacteria in the soil microbiome interact with the plants under these stress conditions. The findings will help scientists develop advanced crop strains and agricultural practices that promote healthier, more sustainable farmland ecosystems.

Heather Crawford is a staff scientist in the Nuclear Science Division of the Physical Sciences Area. She is a member of the Nuclear Structure Group, which investigates the detailed low-energy structure of exotic atomic nuclei, using a range of national and international facilities, such as the upcoming Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) and the TRIUMF accelerator in Canada. She is also a member of the GRETA project team, which is underway at present, building a gamma-ray spectrometer for ultimate use at FRIB. The group is based at Berkeley Lab’s 88-Inch Cyclotron.

Her award is for a project to enable nuclear structure studies in the most neutron-rich nuclei that will be available at the future FRIB facility. A liquid hydrogen target will be designed and constructed, coupled with a compact charged particle detection system to increase the luminosity for reactions with very rare (low-rate) nuclei at FRIB. The project will enable an extended experimental reach and make use of this enabling technology in studies of magnesium, calcium, and iron isotopes.

Simone Pagan Griso is a divisional fellow (research scientist) in the Physics Division of the Physical Sciences Area. His experimental research focuses on elucidating the fundamental laws of physics using the world’s highest energy particle collider, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located at the European Center for Nuclear Physics (CERN) in Switzerland. 

His award explores experimental aspects of leading theories of particle physics involving the creation of new massive particles from very high-energy photons that are emitted by LHC proton beams. Experimental measurements of such processes can be a window to discovering currently unknown physics laws that would shed light on unexplained phenomena in particle physics. His research award also includes design studies, prototype development, and performance measurements of a new state-of-the art addition for the ATLAS silicon detector at CERN to advance precision measurements of physics processes during the future LHC running period.

Robert Saye is a research scientist in the Mathematics Group of the Computing Sciences Area focused on mathematical modeling and scientific computation, particularly numerical methods for fluid-interface dynamics, high-order accurate algorithms for complex geometry, and multi-scale multi-physics simulations.

His award concerns the development of advanced methods to accurately model fluid-dynamics involving complex geometry, such as in liquid atomization processes. These higher-resolution numerical methods could lead to an improved understanding of how small-scale, geometrically intricate processes end up impacting larger-scale dynamics, such as how thin sheets of liquid tear apart to create a mist of droplets. The work could lead to new insights in optimizing device design, improving energy efficiency, and reducing material waste in a diverse range of environmentally sensitive and energy-intensive applications such as medical nebulizers, biofuel combustion, and automobile spray painting.

Marcos Turqueti is an electronics research engineer in the Engineering Division of the Physical Sciences Area. He researches low-temperature electronics for the instrumentation of superconductive magnets and develops control and diagnostic systems for the Magnet Development Program. He also develops electronics for the Neutrino Astrophysics Group and the Applied Nuclear Physics program at Berkeley Lab. 

His award is to develop an electron beam magnetic field mapping technology for undulators and magnets, such as the undulators planned for the Advanced Light Source Upgrade at Berkeley Lab. Current magnetic field measurement technologies have limitations and require frequent recalibration. This project proposes a paradigm shift, aiming to develop a novel sensing technology based on a micro-Cathode Ray Tube (mCRT) integrated with an image sensor. This state-of-the-art magnetometer will eliminate the limitations of current systems and improve magnetic metrology in the future.

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Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 14 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.