CU profs win top awards from Energy Department


By Jim Scott

Alexis Templeton

Three University of Colorado Boulder professors will receive five-year, $750,000 grants as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Early Career Research Program created in 2010 to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce with top young researchers.

The three CU-Boulder winners — Alireza Doostan of the aerospace engineering sciences department, Minhyea Lee of the physics department and Alexis Templeton of the geological sciences department — were among 65 winners nationwide selected by the DOE in 2011.  They join four other CU-Boulder faculty selected in the 2010 — the most of any university in the nation — making CU-Boulder and MIT tops in the country with seven faculty each in the DOE Early Career Research Program.

Trailing CU-Boulder and MIT in total awards for the program in 2010 and 2011 were such schools as Princeton University, Caltech, the University of California, San Diego and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“For CU-Boulder to be honored by the U.S. Department of Energy with seven of these coveted Early Career Research Program awards in the past two years is testimony to our excellence as a research university and our ability to recruit extremely talented young faculty,” said CU-Boulder Vice Chancellor for Research Stein Sture.  “It also is great news for our students, who will be even more involved in critical energy research efforts that benefit Colorado, the nation and world,” said Sture, also dean of the graduate school.

Minhyea Lee

Templeton will be exploring chemical reactions between water, carbon dioxide and several common minerals found beneath Earth’s surface, including olivine, which become unstable in water and will dissolve. Chemical reactions caused by dissolving olivine can react with and sequester CO2, essentially taking it out of the atmosphere and water and storing it in other rocks.

The twist, said Templeton, is that all of the experiments will be conducted in the presence and absence of bacteria that can survive extreme conditions. She and her team will be using high energy X-rays to study how “extremophiles” that can survive such high temperatures and pressures in the deep subsurface might change the reaction pathway involved in dissolving the rocks, producing new minerals, or creating other greenhouse gases like methane.

Lee’s research is focused on uncovering and identifying new states of matter resulting from strong interactions between electrons. The effort involves studying new materials with unusual properties, such as novel magnetism or unconventional superconductivity.

In addition to the fundamental interest in discovering new states, there is great potential for new technological applications in the future, according to Lee.

Alireza Doostan

Doostan’s research centers on developing scalable computational techniques for uncertainty representation and propagation in complex engineering systems. To enhance the credibility of simulation tools and increase confidence in model predictions, Doostan and his group construct probabilistic approaches to characterize uncertainties and their impacts on model predictions.

One of Doostan’s research efforts will be to attempt to improve simulation-based prediction of failure mechanisms in lithium-ion batteries.

To be eligible for the DOE Early Career Research awards, researchers must have received their doctorates in the past 10 years and be untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professors at U.S. academic institutions or full-time employees at DOE laboratories. The three CU-Boulder faculty winners in 2011 were selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants, as were CU-Boulder’s 2010 winners.

The four 2010 recipients from CU-Boulder were Michael Hermele, Alysia Marino and Tobin Munsat of the department of physics and Arthi Jayaraman of the department of chemical and biological engineering.

There was one other DOE Early Career Award winner from Colorado in 2011 — Zhigang Wu from the Colorado School of Mines, who will be studying quantum mechanical simulations of complex nanostructures for photovoltaic applications.
For more information on the DOE awards go to http://science.energy.gov/news/in-the-news/2011/05-06-11/.

Jim Scott is science editor for the CU Office of News Services.

May 2011

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