Newswise — Dedicated to discovering and advancing next-generation scientists, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory recently welcomed five new Maria Goeppert Mayer Fellows to its campus, each chosen for incredible promise in his or her fields.

Katherine Harmon, Alyssa Kody, April Novak, Zhaodi Pan and Ruslan Shaydulin, who joined the laboratory late last year, are conducting a wide variety of studies alongside some of Argonne’s most accomplished researchers.

“Our five new fellows join our world-class community of talent and are making significant contributions to Argonne’s leadership in science and technology. Their efforts support the pivotal discoveries that empower our scientific mission at Argonne,” said Laboratory Director Paul K. Kearns. “We are very excited to see what their research will yield.”

“It’s thrilling to see such a talented crop of young scientists further their careers here at Argonne,” said Laboratory Director Paul K. Kearns. “We are very excited to see what their studies will yield.”

Stephen Streiffer, deputy laboratory director for science and technology, is equally enthusiastic about this latest round of Fellows.

“The scope of their work is tremendous,” he said. “We are so pleased to have them. I look forward to their success here at the lab.”

Fellows are hired as Argonne Scholars with full benefits, a highly competitive salary and a stipend for research support. They may renew their appointments on an annual basis for up to three years, with the possibility of retention.

Katherine Harmon will use her time at the laboratory to focus on quantum information science. She’ll work in the Materials Science division with the goal of developing new materials systems that will allow scientists to control quantum bits — the basic unit of quantum information — in a practical setting.

Quantum bits, or “qubits,” are notoriously hard to command. They’re extraordinarily sensitive to their surrounding environment, including the presence of other qubits, and are typically kept at ultracold temperatures to keep them stable.

“If we want to make quantum computers commercially viable, we need another way to control the quantum states,” Harmon said. And that’s where her work comes in.

One proposed method, she said, is to insert the qubits into a stack of ultrathin, layered materials. If done correctly, this can shield them, allowing them to be stored at room temperature without compromising or changing them.

“My research is to figure out how to build these layered materials,” said Harmon, who will use X-ray tools at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) to look at the nanoscale structure of the stacked materials and determine how it influences the stability of qubits. The APS is a DOE Office of Science User Facility located at Argonne.

The control of quantum states in a system will not only revolutionize computing, but it will have significant impacts on telecommunications, sensing and cryptography.

Harmon, sponsored by Stephan Hruszkewycz, a physicist at Argonne, earned her bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2012 and spent the next two years as a postbaccalaureate research fellow at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. She started her PhD in applied physics at Northwestern University in 2015.

Alyssa Kody will spend her fellowship developing algorithms to operate the electric power grid of the future. She will be using the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, to carry out her research.

“I want to contribute to solving today's most urgent energy challenges,” said Kody, who will work in the Energy Systems division alongside sponsors Daniel Molzahn, a computational engineer, and Feng Qiu, principal computational scientist.

Current grid technology, Kody said, faces numerous challenges, including the intermittency and fluctuations associated with some renewable energy sources. Wind turbines, for example, can only generate electricity when the wind is blowing and the amount of electricity will vary based on wind speed.

Kody’s research will incorporate machine learning techniques into existing control and optimization algorithms for power systems with the goal of increasing computational efficiency and scalability — as well as mitigating the impact of uncertainties.

Currently a postdoc in the Energy Systems division at Argonne, Kody earned her PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan in September 2019. Her thesis was centered on developing control systems for self-powered devices.

April Novak will use high performance computing to predict the behavior of next-generation nuclear reactors, with a focus on sodium-cooled fast reactors (SFRs), which use molten sodium metal as a coolant rather than water.

Her goal is to develop safer, more reliable and more cost-effective reactor systems to help meet the energy demands of the future.

“To design safe reactors, it’s important to ensure that the nuclear reaction remains stable under a wide range of possible operating conditions, including unintended equipment failure or human error,” said Novak, who will work in the Computational Science division under the direction of computational scientist Paul Romano.

Novak earned her bachelor’s degree in nuclear, plasma and radiological engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015. She graduated with a PhD in nuclear engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in the spring of 2020.

She spent several recent summers interning at Argonne, DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory and Terrapower, a nuclear innovation company developing a commercial SFR design.

As her career continues, Novak hopes to advance nuclear power as an important technology in a clean energy economy and to be a force for encouraging under-represented groups to pursue careers in STEM.

Zhaodi Pan, who will work in the High Energy Physics division with assistant physicist Amy Bender, will use his fellowship to try and answer fundamental questions about the universe, including how it began, how it works and how it will continue to evolve.

Of particular interest, he said, is the cosmic microwave background, or CMB, the oldest light in the universe. Pan hopes to develop millimeter-wavelength detectors for measuring the CMB and extract cosmic information from those measurements.

He was attracted to the field, in part, because of its use of cutting-edge technologies, including microfabrication, the process of fabricating miniature structures of micrometer scales and smaller; mechanical engineering; parallel computing, a type of computation where many calculations or the execution of processes are carried out simultaneously; and novel statistical analysis methods.

There is much to be learned.

“Several cornerstones of cosmology are still missing, including the understanding of dark matter, dark energy and cosmic inflation,” Pan said. “Current and next-generation experiments will push technological limits and require new data analysis tools to probe the unknowns.”

Pan earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Science and Technology of China in 2013. He earned his master’s and doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago in 2016, and 2020, respectively.

His work has already taken him to far-flung places. He assisted in developing an instrument for the third-generation camera of the South Pole Telescope (SPT-3G), a ground-based CMB camera, and spent four months on-site helping with its installation.

Pan looks forward to continuing his research into novel detector technologies and data analysis of other cosmological phenomena during the course of his fellowship.

“Argonne is the perfect place to conduct this type of research, with the advantages of available detector fabrication facilities, testing devices and computing resources,” he said.

Sponsored by Deputy Division Director Stefan Wild of the Mathematics and Computer Science division, Ruslan Shaydulin will work alongside computational mathematician Jeff Larson in the area of quantum computing, hoping to overcome the challenges associated with the limitations of near-term quantum devices. And there are numerous problems for Shaydulin to solve.

Right now, quantum computers can execute only a limited number of operations before accumulating so much error that the resulting computations are useless.

“We need to leverage this power to solve practical problems in order to jump-start new applications and better hardware, which, of course, would result in a tremendous new means for scientific discovery," he said.

Quantum devices have the potential to solve optimization problems traditional computers can’t. This is particularly true when it comes to machine learning.

“Quantum computers may be able to detect certain kinds of patterns in data with far greater ease and efficiency than even the fastest classical supercomputer,” he said.

Shaydulin earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and applied mathematics from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 2016, and a PhD in computer science from Clemson University in 2020.

Prior to joining Argonne, he interned at NASA Ames and IBM Research.

The first two years of the fellowship are funded by Argonne’s Laboratory Directed Research Development (LDRD) Program. Funding for the third year is split equally between the LDRD Program and other programs identified by the fellow and his or her sponsor.

The early career scientists say they are honored to partake in a program named for world-renowned theoretical physicist Maria Goeppert Mayer. She received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for proposing the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus, work she conducted at Argonne.

“Receiving this award certainly gives me a lot to aspire to,” Harmon said.

The Argonne Leadership Computing Facility provides supercomputing capabilities to the scientific and engineering community to advance fundamental discovery and understanding in a broad range of disciplines. Supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science, Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, the ALCF is one of two DOE Leadership Computing Facilities in the nation dedicated to open science.

About the Advanced Photon Source

The U. S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory is one of the world’s most productive X-ray light source facilities. The APS provides high-brightness X-ray beams to a diverse community of researchers in materials science, chemistry, condensed matter physics, the life and environmental sciences, and applied research. These X-rays are ideally suited for explorations of materials and biological structures; elemental distribution; chemical, magnetic, electronic states; and a wide range of technologically important engineering systems from batteries to fuel injector sprays, all of which are the foundations of our nation’s economic, technological, and physical well-being. Each year, more than 5,000 researchers use the APS to produce over 2,000 publications detailing impactful discoveries, and solve more vital biological protein structures than users of any other X-ray light source research facility. APS scientists and engineers innovate technology that is at the heart of advancing accelerator and light-source operations. This includes the insertion devices that produce extreme-brightness X-rays prized by researchers, lenses that focus the X-rays down to a few nanometers, instrumentation that maximizes the way the X-rays interact with samples being studied, and software that gathers and manages the massive quantity of data resulting from discovery research at the APS.

This research used resources of the Advanced Photon Source, a U.S. DOE Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.

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