04/12/2004 07:00:00

From Cosmos to Climate, Six Caltech Professors Awarded Sloan Research Fellowships

PASADENA, Calif.— Six members of the Caltech faculty have received Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowships for 2004.

The Caltech recipients in the field of mathematics are Nathan Dunfield and Vadim Kaloshin, both associate professors of mathematics. In physics, Sloan Fellowships were awarded to Andrew Blain, assistant professor of astronomy, Sunil Golwala, assistant professor of physics, Re'em Sari, associate professor of astrophysics and planetary science, and Tapio Schneider, assistant professor of environmental science and engineering.

Each Sloan Fellow receives a grant of $40,000 for a two-year period. The grants of unrestricted funds are awarded to young researchers in the fields of physics, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, neuroscience, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, and economics. The grants are given to pursue diverse fields of inquiry and research, and to allow young scientists the freedom to establish their own independent research projects at a pivotal stage in their careers. The Sloan Fellows are selected on the basis of "their exceptional promise to contribute to the advancement of knowledge."

From over 500 nominees, a total of 116 young scientists and economists from 51 different colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, including Caltech's six, were selected to receive a Sloan Research Fellowship.

Twenty-eight previous Sloan Fellows have gone on to win Nobel Prizes.

The Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship program was established in 1955 by Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., who was the chief executive officer of General Motors for 23 years. Its objective is to encourage research by young scholars at a time in their careers when other support may be difficult to obtain. It is the oldest program of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and one of the oldest fellowship programs in the country.

Nathan Dunfield conducts research in topology, the study of how geometric structures in three-dimensional space can be altered. His focus is on the connections to the symmetries of rigid geometric objects, especially certain types of non-Euclidean geometries, and he also uses computer experiments to probe some of the central questions in the study of topology. Dunfield will utilize his Sloan Fellowship to further his research in this area.

Vadim Kaloshin is an expert in chaos theory and "strange attractors." He is especially interested in mathematical equations known as Hamiltonian systems and how they apply to stability. His work could lead to a better understanding of how chaotic systems behave. Kaloshin will use his Sloan Fellowship to continue investigation in these fields.

Andrew Blain probes the origin of galaxies by observing them at great distances in the process of formation. He concentrates on the signatures that can be seen in the short-wavelength radio and long-wavelength infrared spectrum, where the gas and soot-like dust particles between the stars emit energy they absorb from the youngest and most luminous parts of galaxies. Most studies of the process are still carried out using the direct light from stars at shorter optical wavelengths, but the complementary information from longer wavelengths is essential to build up a more complete picture. The Sloan Foundation Fellowship will be used to link together these two techniques by investigating differences between the way distant galaxies found at each wavelength are distributed in space.

Sunil Golwala's research focuses on understanding dark matter and dark energy, components that dominate the universe but whose identity and nature are unknown. Golwala is interested in the development and use of particle detectors for observing the direct scattering of "Weakly Interacting Massive Particles," one of the leading candidates for dark matter. His work also involves the observation of varying aspects of the cosmic microwave background that inform us about the nature of dark energy via its effect on the growth of galaxy clusters and its clustering effects on super-horizon scales. Golwala will utilize his Sloan Fellowship in pursuit of this endeavor to better understand the universe.

Re'em Sari intends to utilize his Sloan Fellowship to examine the origin of planet formation, a first step in a long journey to look for life around other stars. Some of the fundamental questions he will investigate are: How do planets form? What are the necessary initial conditions for planet formation? What factors determined the number of planets in our solar system? How many planets like Earth do we expect to find around other stars? Are there binary giant planets? Sari will apply his fellowship to further understanding the "grand scheme of planetary systems."

Tapio Schneider works on understanding climate and the dynamical processes in the atmosphere that determine basic climatic features such as the pole-to-equator temperature gradient and the distribution of water vapor. Developing mathematical models of the large-scale (1000 km) turbulent transport of heat, mass, and water vapor is one central aspect of this research. The Sloan Fellowship will provide computing equipment and support to expand these studies on climate.

Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges (626) 395-3227 debwms@caltech.edu

Visit the Caltech Media Relations Web site at: http://pr.caltech.edu/media

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Written by Deborah Williams-Hedges