Posted December 21, 2009 05:34 pm - Updated January 28, 2010 01:01 pm

Honors are in store for some of our best nuclear scientists

How’s your hyperspectral light source and high-energy collider acumen?

Even if you’re not up to speed on these technical fields, you’ll be gratified to know the people who pursue such pastimes are on our side—and are being honored next month by the government agency that maintains our nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Each year, the National Nuclear Security Administration and Energy Department award the E.O. Lawrence Award—which includes a gold medal and a $50,000 prize—to selected scientists whose diligence and insight has helped advance missions that include research, energy security and nuclear non-proliferation.

The award was established in 1959 to honor the memory of Ernest O. Lawrence, who invented the particle accelerator, and after whom Energy Department labs in Berkeley and Livermore, California are named, according to a press release that crossed my desk last week.

This year’s winners, and their topics, are:

• Sunny Xie, from Harvard University, will be honored for his innovations in nonlinear Raman microscopy and highly sensitive vibrational imaging, his scientific leadership in establishing the field of single-molecule biophysical chemistry, and his seminal work in enzyme dynamics and live cell gene expression.
• Joan F. Brennecke, University of Notre Dame, will be honored for advancing fundamental understanding in supercritical fluids and ionic liquids, and her scientific and technological leadership in discovering new environmentally-benign, green chemistries.
• Wim Leemans, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will be honored for his work in developing the laser plasma wakefield accelerator from concept to demonstration, and his scientific leadership exploring its promise and unprecedented possibilities ranging from hyperspectral light sources to high energy colliders.
• Zhi-Xun Shen, Stanford University, will be honored for groundbreaking discoveries and pioneering use of high resolution angle-resolved photoemission to advance understanding of strongly correlated electron systems including high-transition temperature superconductors and other complex oxides.
• Omar Hurricane, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, will be honored for his scientific leadership to advance understanding in a long-standing nuclear weapons physics anomaly and his contribution to nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship
• William Dorland, University of Maryland, will be honored for leadership in the development of comprehensive computer simulations of plasma turbulence, and his specific predictions, insights, and improved understanding of turbulent transport in magnetically-confined plasma experiments.

Locally, and often under the radar of folks throughout the community, similarly important work goes on daily at Savannah River National Labotarory.

Scientists there develop secure transportation methods for sensitive (and dangerous) nuclear materials and have established a forensics lab that helps the FBI analyze and evaluate radiological evidence. They also build robots for disarming bombs and have invented countless technologies for the nation’s nuclear weapons program, including a hydrogen isotope separation process that helps produce tritium for warheads. There is also research under way involving wind turbines and other forms of renewable energy.

The list goes on and on—and so do the opportunities.