Three scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have won 2016 Early Career Research Program grants.
They are among 49 winners nationwide selected from about 600 applicants for Department of Energy Office of Science grants to support exceptional researchers during the crucial early years of their careers.
PNNL scientists Yingge Du, Kirsten Hofmockel and James Moran will receive at least $2.5 million each during the next five years.
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“Scientists recognized with this early career award represent some of the brightest minds in the nation,” said Steven Ashby, director of PNNL. “We are fortunate to have Yingge, Kirsten and Jim on our team.”
Du is studying the fundamental properties of some of the most carefully constructed materials ever created — very thin films of materials known as transition metal oxides.
The materials are more environmentally friendly and easier to work with than many current electronic materials. But they must be built just one atomic layer at a time, and a single atom can affect the device’s physical properties in unexpected ways.
The materials may have applications in energy capture, storage and conversion, as well as “atomically precise” devices where the position of every atom is crucial.
Hofmockel, who works at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, will study the science around bioenergy crops — like switchgrass and corn — that are grown as a potential source of energy.
Scientists recognized with this early career award represent some of the brightest minds in the nation. We are fortunate to have Yingge, Kirsten and Jim on our team.
Steven Ashby, director Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Her project will look at how crop selection and soil properties influence soil micro-organisms, which play a huge role in the fate of carbon in soil.
She will study what those microbes are doing to transform carbon and other compounds in the soil, the potential of soil to hold vast amounts of carbon, what happens to the microbes once they die,and the effects of growing bioenergy crops on soil and its microbes.
Moran will scrutinize a community of microbes in the “rhizosphere,” the area surrounding the roots of a plant where roots, soil and vital microbes connect.
Understanding activity in the rhizosphere is vital for scientists to understand how plants draw nutrients, and also how soils and their microbial communities can remain healthy. It could help protect crops from pathogens and drought and advance the use of bioenergy crops.
Moran has developed sophisticated imaging techniques to track different forms of elements such as carbon and nitrogen from the soil into the rhizosphere, then into a plant’s roots and into the plant.
This year’s awards bring to 13 the number won by PNNL staff since the program’s inception in 2010.