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Four ORNL researchers receive DOE early career funding awards

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 10, 2017 – Four Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers specializing in nuclear physics, fusion energy, advanced materials and environmental science are among 59 recipients of Department of Energy’s Office of Science Early Career Research Program awards.

The Early Career Research Program, now in its eighth 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 59 selectees for fiscal year 2017 were chosen based on peer review of about 700 proposals.

“Our effectiveness in solving big problems of national importance over the long term relies directly on the vitality of our early-career staff—their creativity, talents and new ideas,” ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said. “DOE’s investment in these promising young researchers is a recognition of their talents and evidence of the importance of their work.”

Kelly Chipps, a Liane B. Russell Fellow working in ORNL’s Physics Division, will receive funding for her proposal, “Next-Generation Particle Spectroscopy at FRIB: A Gas Jet Target for Solenoidal Spectrometers,” selected by the Office of Nuclear Physics.

Her research seeks to study exotic, unstable nuclei and nuclear reactions that power the stars by combining the benefits of the sophisticated state-of-the-art solenoidal spectrometer at Argonne National Laboratory and the Jet Experiments in Nuclear Structure and Astrophysics system developed at ORNL. The project promises to resolve challenges to achieving high-resolution and low-background particle spectroscopy when applied to the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB).

David Green, of ORNL’s Fusion and Materials for Nuclear Systems Division, proposed a project titled, “Scale-Bridging Simulation of Magnetically Confined Fusion Plasmas,” which was funded by the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences.

Because of the extreme environment within nuclear fusion devices, only so much of the essential physics can be unraveled by a purely experimental approach. Green’s research will exploit the coming wave of exascale computing platforms and advanced timescale-bridging methods to simulate a fusion device in hopes of discovering essential fusion reactor physics that cannot be predicted today.

Thomas (Zac) Ward’s proposal, “Designing Metastability: Coercing Materials to Phase Boundaries,” was selected by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences. Ward works in ORNL’s Materials Science and Technology Division.

His project will apply previously inaccessible structural distortions to single-crystal transition metal oxides to gain deeper fundamental insights into complexity’s role in driving functionality. This work may lead to coexisting nanoscale electronic and magnetic phases of varying properties designed into a single crystal wafer. Such a breakthrough would allow for single-chip multifunctionality expected to drive device applications beyond Moore’s law.

David Weston, of ORNL’s Biosciences Division, submitted a proposal titled, “Determining the genetic and environmental factors underlying mutualism within a plant-microbiome system driving nutrient acquisition and exchange,” to be funded by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research.

He will identify the genes and metabolic functions involved in the exchange of nutrients between certain plants and microbes and study their response to environmental changes in both laboratory and field settings. Deeper fundamental understanding of the symbiotic plant-microbe relationship could reveal pathways to improve bioenergy crop production in nutrient-limiting environments.

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