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Four ORNL researchers receive DOE early career funding awards

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., May 3, 2016—Four Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers specializing in environmental, biological and computational science are among 49 recipients of Department of Energy's Office of Science Early Career Research Program awards.

The Early Career Research Program, now in its seventh year, supports the development of individual research programs of outstanding scientists early in their careers and stimulates research careers in the disciplines supported by the DOE Office of Science.  The 49 selectees for fiscal year 2016 were chosen based on peer review of about 720 proposals.

“We invest in promising young researchers early in their careers to support lifelong discovery science to fuel the nation’s innovation system,” said Cherry Murray, director of DOE’s Office of Science.  “We are proud of the accomplishments these young scientists already have made, and look forward to following their achievements in years to come.”

Travis Humble, of ORNL’s Computer Science and Mathematics Division, will receive funding for his proposal, “Accelerating Applications of High‐Performance Computing with Quantum Processing Units,” selected by the Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research.

Humble’s research investigates how emerging quantum computing platforms can be leveraged to support scientific computing at DOE facilities. This project assesses the potential for quantum computing to accelerate scientific applications in computational chemistry, materials science, data analytics and other domains.

Melanie Mayes’ proposal, “A Comprehensive Framework for Modeling Emissions from Tropical Soils and Wetlands,” was selected by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research. Mayes works in ORNL’s Environmental Sciences Division.

Tropical wetlands and wetlands soils are important sources of greenhouse gases, but the modeling of emissions from soils and wetlands needs improvement. Mayes’ project relates microbial traits, soil characteristics, soil water content, and soil oxygen concentrations and uses the information to build models to improve predictions of soil gas emissions in wet tropical soils and wetlands.

Wellington Muchero, of ORNL’s Biosciences Division, was selected for his proposal, “Host‐Microbial Genetic Features Mediating Symbiotic Interactions in the Bioenergy Crop Salix,” by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research.

Using willow, a widely used biofuel feedstock and pioneer species with increasing presence in the warming Arctic region, Muchero’s project will identify and characterize unique host‐derived genetic factors that allow select microbes to successfully evade plants’ defense mechanisms. The research presents a unique opportunity to couple new growth‐promoting microbes with willow to increase carbon sequestration in the vulnerable Arctic and improve plant biomass yields for the sustainable production of cellulosic biofuels.

Clayton Webster was selected for his project, “Mathematical Methods for Optimal Polynomial Recovery of High‐Dimensional Systems from Noisy Data,” by the Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research. Webster is a researcher in ORNL’s Computer Science and Mathematics Division.

Webster’s project is focused on the development of polynomial approximation methods for data from physical experiments and numerical simulations, driven by the need in many important energy and materials science fields. Webster aims to develop innovative methods for inexpensive and accurate approximations that can be used in understanding and analyzing problems arising in plasma physics, molecular electronic structures, turbulent flows, and other DOE‐mission applications.

National lab recipients will receive at least $500,000 per year to cover annual salary plus research expenses over a planned five years. The final details for each project award are subject to final grant and contract negotiations between DOE and the awardees.

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit