Physics and astronomy department celebrates early career awards to five young faculty members
Amid the festive mood of the holiday season, the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the School of Arts and Sciences had special reason to celebrate: An unprecedented five of its assistant professors were selected to receive coveted National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER awards in 2008.
The five-year grants, known as the Faculty Early Career Development Program awards, give outstanding junior faculty a secure financial footing to establish their research programs and share their knowledge with students from grade school through graduate school.
Eva Halkiadakis, Kristjan Haule, and Charles Keeton are receiving the first installment of their awards in 2008, and Seongshik Oh and Weida Wu were notified recently that their proposals are expected to be approved early this year.
CAREER award winners are not unusual at Rutgers. Over the past decade, there have been a handful of recipients annually from engineering, math, computer science, physics, chemistry, and education. But having five named from a single department in one year is an achievement that both the university and the NSF characterize as extraordinary.
For Torgny Gustafsson, professor and department chair, it speaks well for his department’s hiring process. “This shows we can identify the very best people in our field and attract them to Rutgers,” said Gustafsson, crediting his physics colleagues and the School of Arts and Sciences dean’s office. He also cited direct involvement by Philip Furmanski, executive vice president for academic affairs, and Len Feldman, head of the Institute for Advanced Materials, Devices and Nanotechnology.
It also points to a future of accomplishment and prestige. “Among the physics community, this is great for the stature of our department and the university,” Gustafsson added. “These faculty members will take initiatives that set our direction for many years to come.”
The fact that the Rutgers recipients are from different areas within physics and astronomy also speaks to the overall strength of the department. Halkiadakis is a high energy experimental physicist, Haule a theoretical condensed matter physicist, and Keeton an astrophysicist. Oh and Wu are experimental condensed matter physicists.
The recipients agree that their CAREER awards give them more time to focus on research work. “It removes the immediate pressure to write further grant proposals,” Keeton said. Halkiadakis said the grant will help her analyze data expected to pour in from the new European particle accelerator later this year. “I’m now in a position where I can become a leader in this kind of research early on,” she said.
The recipients also note that the CAREER awards give them a level of recognition that opens doors for collaboration and team building. “The awards are not just funding,” said Oh. “They are the physics community recognizing us as capable, promising members.” Halkiadakis has long been interested in promoting physics education and career opportunities among women, and says that her outreach proposals would not be possible without the NSF’s generous support.