Public Release: 

Two UF professors win Presidential Award for Young Researchers -- one is married to last year's winner from UF

University of Florida

GAINESVILLE --- Two University of Florida researchers have won one of the nation's most prestigious awards for outstanding young scientists and engineers.

Richard Elston, a UF associate professor of astronomy, and Zhuomin Zhang, a UF assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will be recognized at a White House ceremony Wednesday for receiving the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, or PECASE award. The White House describes the award as "the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers who are in the early stages of establishing their independent research careers."

Five UF researchers have received the PECASE award since the program was launched in 1996. Last year's recipient was Elston's wife, Elizabeth Lada, also an associate professor of astronomy. Lada will return Washington D.C. this week to serve as a keynote speaker at a National Science Foundation ceremony preceding the White House ceremony.

The award includes a $500,000 research grant for each faculty member. The grants will be administered over a five-year period.

Elston and Zhang said they were overjoyed to learn they were among the 60 researchers nationwide chosen for the award.

"I was extremely excited and happy," Zhang said. "I understand it is a real challenge to live up to this honor, and I am determined to do my best."

Zhang came to UF in 1995 after three years as a guest scientist in the optical technology division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology inGaithersburg,Maryland. He earned his bachelor's in engineering thermophysics at the University of Science and Technology of China and doctorate in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Zhang's research seeks to advance basic science involving heat transfer and thermodynamics and apply the result to cutting-edge technological problems. The research requires a broad spectrum of knowledge, and Zhang has worked with researchers in physics, chemistry and materials science, among other disciplines. Zhang's findings could help improve the manufacturing process for silicon chips and contribute to the development of nanotechnology, among other applications, Zhang said.

"One of our goals is to try to understand the heat transfer process from the micro point of view," Zhang said.

Elston came to UF in 1997 after five years as an astronomer at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. He has a bachelor's in physics from the University of New Mexico and a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Arizona.

Elston's research focuses on how galaxies and other structures emerged in the early universe. He said he will use his PECASE grant to continue his research in this area with an instrument he designed and helped build. The instrument is called the Florida Array Multi-object Imaging Near Infrared Grism Observational Spectrometer, or FLAMINGOS.

Mounted on a large telescope, the 54-inch, tube-shaped instrument will enable observers to examine as many as 100 galaxies at one time, he said.

"In the past, we could observe only one object in a night," he said. "With FLAMINGOS, we'll be able to observe in one night what used to require 100 nights. So we can do things we wouldn't have even thought about doing before."

UF Interim President Charles Young said the selection of Elston and Zhang as UF's latest PECASE winners is a reflection of the talent of UF's faculty members and the high quality of its research programs.

"Drs. Elston and Zhang are to be commended for achieving this unparalleled honor so early in their academic careers," Young said. "The entire University of Florida community is enhanced by the extraordinary dedication they have demonstrated to their chosen professions."


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