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President Obama selects two Stanford engineers for early career award

Sigrid Close and Jennifer Dionne will receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

President Obama selects two Stanford engineers for early career award

January 8, 2014
Sigrid Close and Jennifer Dionne

Assistant Professor Sigrid Close will receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers through the National Science Foundation. | Photo by Norbert von der Groeben

Assistant Professor Jennifer Dionne will receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers through the Department of Defense. | Photo by Joel Simon

Sigrid Close, an assistant professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is among 19 National Science Foundation-funded researchers to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the U.S. government’s highest honor for scientists and engineers early in their independent research careers.

Close was honored for her “unique and fascinating discoveries related to the effects of meteoroid impacts on the atmosphere and spacecraft, leading to new understanding and practical benefits.”

Close discovered that radio frequency emissions are associated with the expanding plasmas from these impacts, offering a means to diagnose effects and study target characteristics. She developed the first electromagnetic scattering model for meteoroid plasma formed in Earth’s atmosphere. The model allows determination of meteor mass from the plasma measurements. Her meteoroid investigations have led her to design experiments to develop hypervelocity threat models for future space commercialization applications.

"Studying the space environment and its effects on our global community continues to be an important area of research, especially as we look toward extending human presence deeper into space,” Close said. “I am very honored and grateful to the selection committee for choosing to highlight my work in this field for recognition with a PECASE award."

Jennifer Dionne, assistant professor of Materials Science and Engineering, is one of 16 U.S. Department of Defense-funded researchers to receive this year's PECASE. Dionne's research develops new optical metamaterials – engineered materials with optical and electrical properties not found in nature. She then uses these materials to directly visualize, probe, and control nanoscale systems and phenomena, particularly those relevant to energy and biology.

"I feel humbled and honored to receive this award.” Dionne said. “I know that my success would not be possible without the incredible support of other faculty, students and staff at Stanford."

Among numerous research contributions, Dionne and coworkers designed a broadband negative index material, demonstrated negative refraction at visible wavelengths, developed a subwavelength silicon electro-optic modulator, proposed a new technique for direct optical tweezing of small particles and proteins, and helped unravel the properties of plasmons in the quantum-size regime.

Sean Hartnoll, assistant professor of physics at Stanford, also received the PECASE along with 12 other Department of Energy-funded researchers. Hartnoll was chosen for his "innovative interdisciplinary research on holographic duality, a set of sophisticated theoretical ideas and tools developed over the last decade as part of string theory to gain insight into both high energy physics and condensed matter physics."

“The impressive achievements of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead,” President Obama said of the 102 PECASE winners. “We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America’s global leadership for many years to come.”

Winners will be recognized at a ceremony in Washington later this year.

PECASE winners are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology, and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. In addition to a citation and a plaque, each PECASE winner receives funding for up to five years.