6 Berkeley Lab researchers win US Department of Energy funding award

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Six researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab, received Early Career Research awards from the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, as announced Thursday by the DOE.

The Berkeley Lab recipients are Ethan Crumlin, Karen Davies, Dan Dwyer, Kolby Jardine, Colin Ophus and Aritoki Suzuki, bringing the number of Berkeley Lab awardees since 2010 to 35, according to a press release from the lab.

Because the lab is a DOE national lab, each researcher will receive at least $500,000 a year for the next five years, as opposed to the minimum $150,000 given to U.S. university researchers. This award is part of the DOE’s Early Career Research Program to foster national innovation by supporting scientists early in their careers, according to the DOE website.

For researchers at DOE labs, these funds will pay for their salaries and healthcare as well as engineering costs, facilities costs and other overhead costs, according to Dwyer, a Berkeley Lab particle physicist.

“It’s a substantial benefit to young scientists because normally young scientists … have to work at specific existing lab projects in order to fund their research,” Dwyer said.

Applicants must persuade a board of “well-respected scientists” both that their research project is feasible and “well-matched” for the funds, and that they are the most qualified to be researching that topic, according to Dwyer.

Funding affects the lives of researchers “every day, in every way,” according to Ophus, a research scientist at the lab’s Molecular Foundry. Ophus said most career researchers have more ideas than they have the resources or time to support.

Dwyer’s research is part of a larger effort to determine why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe. The larger effort will involve shooting a beam of neutrinos and antineutrinos from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois to detectors in South Dakota, Dwyer said. For his project, he is designing a detection method that can operate in the high-intensity environment close to the source of a neutrino beam.

Ophus said he plans to use the award funds to hire postdoctoral researchers and purchase the power supplies, vacuum equipment and electron mirrors necessary for the construction of a quantum electron microscopy prototype, which will make it possible to view molecular samples with higher resolving power without damaging them.

The DOE’s Early Career Research Program supports researchers based at DOE national laboratories or at U.S. universities. Both Dwyer and Ophus described receiving the award as a form of recognition or validation.

“It means a lot to get your first serious grant,” Ophus said. “It reminds me that sometimes in science (some) ideas are good enough that you can bring everyone along in the ride with you.”

Matthew Lo covers research and ideas. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @matthewlo_dc.

Because of misinformation from a source, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 29 researchers from Berkeley Lab have received Early Career Research awards since 2010. In fact, 35 Berkeley Lab researchers have received this award since 2010.