Seven with MIT ties receive awards from the American Physical Society

Recent American Physical Society honorees include (top row, l-r) MIT professors Arup Chakraborty, Lina Necib, and Ronald Fernando Garcia Ruiz; (bottom row, l-r) Yuan Cao SM ’16, PhD ’20; Alina Kononov ’14; Elliott H. Lieb ’53; and Haocun Yu PhD ’20.

Professors Arup Chakraborty, Lina Necib, and Ronald Fernando Garcia Ruiz as well as Yuan Cao SM ’16, PhD ’20; Alina Kononov ’14; Elliott H. Lieb ’53; Haocun Yu PhD ’20; and others honored for contributions to physics.

Sandi Miller | Department of Physics

October 26, 2022

The American Physical Society (APS) recently honored a number of individuals with ties to MIT with prizes and awards for their contributions to physics. They include: Institute Professor Arup Chakraborty; associate professors Ronald Fernando Garcia Ruiz and Lina Necib; Yuan Cao SM ’16 PhD ’20; Alina Kononov ’14; Elliott H. Lieb ’53; Haocun Yu PhD ’20; and several former MIT postdocs.

Max Delbruck Prize in Biological Physics

Institute Professor Arup Chakraborty, a professor of chemical engineering, physics, and chemistry, received the 2023 Max Delbruck Prize in Biological Physics for his role in “initiating the field of computational immunology, aimed at applying approaches from physical sciences and engineering to unravel the mechanistic underpinnings of the adaptive immune response to pathogens, and to harness this understanding to help design vaccines and therapy.”

The Delbruck Prize is named in honor of the physicist and Nobel Laureate Max Delbruck, whose influential quantitative study of genes and their susceptibility to mutations has inspired generations of physical scientists to work on biology, starting with Erwin Schroedinger’s book “What Is Life?” The annual $10,000 Delbruck Prize recognizes and encourages outstanding achievement in biological physics research. 

A chemical engineer by training, Chakraborty’s research at the crossroad of statistical physics and molecular and cellular immunology has led to discoveries regarding the immune response to pathogens, which can be harnessed for the development of potential vaccines for HIV, influenza, and other highly mutable pathogens. Most recently, he has also been studying the role of phase separation in gene regulation. The Chakraborty Group’s theoretical and computational research is distinguished by its impact on experimental and clinical studies, and they collaborate with many experimental and clinical biologists.

Teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, Chakraborty is also a co-author of the 2021 book “Viruses, Pandemics, and Immunity.” He is one of just 12 MIT Institute Professors and is also one of just 25 individuals who are members of all three branches of the U.S. National Academies — National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, and National Academy of Engineering.

Chakraborty is a core faculty member and the founding director of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, and a founding member of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard. He will receive the prize at January’s APS Annual Leadership Meeting in Washington.

George E. Valley Jr. Prize  

Assistant professor of physics Lina Necib PhD ’17 has been selected to receive the George E. Valley Jr. Prize, which recognizes an outstanding scientific contribution to physics by an early-career researcher.

The astroparticle physicist was recognized for the discovery of a massive new stellar structure “that may have shaped the history of the Milky Way,” and for her development of “groundbreaking new methods” to study our galaxy’s dark-matter halo and growth history.

Necib uses cosmological simulations, stellar catalogs, machine learning techniques, and a background of particle physics to build the first map of dark matter in the Milky Way. Specifically, Necib uses the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft’s optical telescopes to model the kinematics of accreted stars, which are stars born outside our galaxy, the Milky Way. Some of these stars originate from merger events such as the Gaia Sausage/Gaia Enceledus. She also discovered a stellar stream that wraps around the Milky Way galaxy, called Nyx, after the Greek goddess of the night, and is using spectroscopy to identify its properties.

A native of Tunisia, Necib worked with Professor Jesse Thaler to receive her PhD in theoretical physics from MIT in 2017. She rejoined the Institute as a faculty member in 2021.

The award, which recognizes an early-career individual for an outstanding scientific contribution to physics that is deemed to have significant potential for a dramatic impact on the field, provides $10,000, a certificate citing the contribution made by the recipient, an allowance for travel to the APS Medal and Prize Ceremony and Reception in Washington, and an invited talk at an APS March or April meeting. The prize is named after the late MIT professor emeritus of physics who was also an MIT alumnus.

Stuart Jay Freedman Award in Experimental Nuclear Physics  

Assistant professor of physics Ronald Fernando Garcia Ruiz was recognized with the American Physical Society’s Stuart Jay Freedman Award in Experimental Nuclear Physics “for novel studies of exotic nuclei using precision laser spectroscopy measurements, including the first spectroscopy of short-lived radioactive molecules.” 

Garcia Ruiz develops laser spectroscopy techniques to investigate the properties of subatomic particles using atoms and molecules made up of short-lived radioactive nuclei. His experimental work provides unique information about the fundamental forces of nature, the properties of nuclear matter at the limits of existence, and the search for new physics beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. 

Very recently, his team at MIT and collaborators developed a new laser spectroscopy experiment, the Resonant ionization Spectroscopy Experiments (RiSE), located at the new Department of Energy Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) at Michigan State University. “We anticipate the RISE experiment, combined with the unique capabilities of FRIB, is going to provide major breakthroughs in our understanding of nuclei at the extremes of stability, and the use of rare atoms and molecules in fundamental physics over the next decade,” Garcia Ruiz says.

A native of Colombia, Garcia Ruiz joined MIT in 2020. His award, named after distinguished experimental nuclear physicist Stuart J. Freedman, will be presented at the 2022 Fall Meeting of the APS Division of Nuclear Physics Oct. 27-30. The award includes $4,000, a certificate, and travel allowance to give a talk at the awards ceremony.

Richard L. Greene Dissertation Award in Experimental Condensed Matter or Materials Physics

Yuan Cao SM ’16, PhD ’20, now a junior fellow at Harvard University, received the 2022 Richard L. Greene Dissertation Award in Experimental Condensed Matter or Materials Physics “for pioneering discoveries of strongly correlated physics in twisted bilayer graphene.”

A graduate of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and former Jarillo-Herrero lab postdoc and Materials Research Laboratory visiting scientist, Cao is mainly focused on the quantum transport in 2D materials, especially moiré superlattices. Cao’s past work has been honored as “Nature’s 10″ and Physics World’s “Physics Breakthrough of the Year,” in 2018.

Nicholas Metropolis Award for Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Work in Computational Physics

Alina Kononov ’14, a postdoc at Sandia National Laboratories, received the Nicholas Metropolis Award for Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Work in Computational Physics “for trailblazing contributions to the computational modeling of materials physics, including large-scale simulations of irradiated materials and advances in time-dependent density functional theory.”

Kononov’s research interests span electronic structure theory and its applications, including time-dependent density functional theory, quantum simulation, materials physics, and high-energy density science. A 2014 graduate of MIT in physics, her later doctoral work focused on first-principles modeling of ion-irradiated surfaces and 2D materials, enabling predictive calculations of ion-induced electron emission, uncovering new surface physics, and offering insights for ion beam materials imaging and processing techniques. At Sandia National Labs, she continues to develop and apply cutting-edge methods to model excited electron dynamics.

APS Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research

Elliott H. Lieb ’53, an alumnus of the MIT Department of Physics and a former MIT professor who is now at Princeton University, has received the 2022 APS Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research “for major contributions to theoretical physics through obtaining exact solutions to important physical problems, which have impacted condensed matter physics, quantum information, statistical mechanics, and atomic physics.”

As an MIT professor from 1968 to 1974, he became renown for the Lieb-Robinson Bound in condensed matter, which plays a significant role on the topological phases of extensive quantum systems; the “Strong subadditivity of quantum entropy,” with Mary Beth Ruskai, which now forms part of the basis of modern quantum information theory; the first “Brascamp-Lieb inequalities” that date from this period (the final version was constructed by Elliott at Princeton in 1990); and “The proof of stability of matter” with Austrian physicist Walter Thirring — their Lieb-Thirring inequalities opened a new chapter in functional analysis.

Carl E. Anderson Division of Laser Science Dissertation Award

Haocun Yu PhD ’20, who earned her doctorate from the MIT Department of Physics and is now a postdoc at the University of Vienna’s Walther group, received the 2021 Carl E. Anderson Division of Laser Science Dissertation Award “for leading contributions to the Advanced LIGO detectors, achieving unprecedented sensitivity through injection of squeezed stated of light, sensitive enough to observe mirror motion driven by quantum vacuum fluctuations and quantum correlations at the human scale.”

Yu began working with the MIT LIGO scientific team in 2014, with a focus on the enhancement of LIGO sensitivity using quantum techniques, as well as the demonstration of macroscopic quantum phenomena in Advanced LIGO detectors. Her contributions on quantum techniques have taken macroscopic quantum mechanics to the human scale, and Advanced LIGO detectors to unprecedented sensitivity. Her recent research interest lies in the interface of quantum mechanics and gravity.   

Other researchers with MIT ties who were honored with APS awards and prizes include: Bernhard Mistlberger, former 2018-20 Pappalardo Fellow, who won the Henry Primakoff Award for Early-Career Particle Physics; Prineha Narang, former MIT physics research scholar, who won the 2023 Maria Goeppert Mayer Award; Itamar Procaccia, former MIT postdoc, who won the 2023 Leo P. Kadanoff Prize; Michael J. Ramsey-Musolf, former MIT postdoc, who won the 2023 Herman Feshbach Prize in Theoretical Nuclear Physics; B. Lee Roberts, former MIT Laboratory for Nuclear Science postdoc, who won the 2023 W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics; and Vivek Sharma, former mechanical engineering postdoc, who won the 2023 John H. Dillon Medal.

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