Four Northwestern professors receive presidential award

Ally Mauch, Reporter

President Barack Obama honored four members of Northwestern faculty with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers earlier this month.

Mechanical engineer Sinan Keten, physicist Eric Dahl, and chemists Danna Freedman and David Harris were among 102 scientists and engineers who received the award this year.

The program, established in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, awards scientists and engineers in the early stages of their research for innovation in their fields. The White House makes the final decision on award recipients after they are nominated by various federal agencies.

“These innovators are working to help keep the United States on the cutting edge, showing that Federal investments in science lead to advancements that expand our knowledge of the world around us and contribute to our economy,” Obama said in a news release.

Three of the recipients — Harris, Freedman and Keten — were nominated by the Department of Defense, and the award leads to increased funding for their research.

Freedman, whose lab researches physics questions from the perspective of inorganic chemistry, said the most significant effect will be a new ability to hire more research assistants.

“(The award) will make a significant difference in being able to recruit more graduate students to the lab and being able to fund the students to do more excellent research,” he said.

Dahl, an assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy, was nominated by the Department of Energy for his work in the direct detection of dark matter, an imperceptible type of matter that scientists have been unable to prove exists.

Regardless, Dahl said his award, which does not include additional funding, will further motivate him to advance his research and potentially lead to other agencies recognizing his work.

“This award is a great honor but it’s also about all the people I work with at Northwestern and the government recognizing how important some of these fundamental science problems are to our society,” Dahl said.

Chemistry Prof. Chad Mirkin helped recruit both Harris and Freedman to Northwestern and has worked with them on inorganic chemistry research. Mirkin said Harris and Freedman are set apart by their motivation and energy, and their commitment to both research and teaching.

“The award puts them in a very elite group of scientists that are vetted by many people in the community,” Mirkin said. “The government has placed a very large bet on them that they are going to be not just successful, but leaders in the field for years to come.”

Some of the recipients’ students also emphasized both the groundbreaking work of their professors and their willingness to help budding scientists.

Bobby Sinko, a fifth-year doctoral student in mechanical engineering, works in Keten’s lab and noted his interest in helping students and providing them with opportunities.

“(Keten) is very passionate about his research topics and he’s always trying to find new and innovative projects to pursue,” Sinko said. “He is very deserving of the award.”

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