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Five MIT researchers win presidential early career honors

Jarillo-Herrero, Lu, Pathak, Sinha and Thaler among 96 winners.

President Barack Obama today named five members of the MIT faculty as recipients of Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Among the 96 honored, the winners from MIT are Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, the Mitsui Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics; Timothy K. Lu ’03, MEng ’03, PhD ’08, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Parag A. Pathak, an associate professor in the Department of Economics; Pawan Sinha SM ’92, PhD ’95, a professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences; and Jesse Thaler, an assistant professor of physics.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President coordinates the awards, which were established by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Eleven federal departments and agencies joined together to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers this year. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach.

“Discoveries in science and technology not only strengthen our economy, they inspire us as a people,” Obama said in a statement. “The impressive accomplishments of today’s awardees so early in their careers promise even greater advances in the years ahead.”

Jarillo-Herrero, who was nominated by the Department of Energy, was cited for his pioneering research on quantum transport phenomena in graphene and topological insulators, which has expanded understanding of the fundamental electronic structure and laid the foundation for future energy applications, and for his outreach to the public through the popular press.

Lu, who was nominated by the Department of Defense, was cited for his outstanding research contributions to the establishment of innovative synthetic biology platforms and for pioneering applications of synthetic biology to materials science, nanotechnology and infectious diseases.

Pathak, who was nominated by the National Science Foundation, was honored for innovative and challenging research in market design, education, and housing and for work with local school administrators throughout the United States that has resulted in more fair and efficient ways to assign children to magnet schools.

Sinha, whose nomination came from the Department of Health and Human Services, was honored for studies on the age-related development of object perception.

Thaler, who was nominated by the Department of Energy, received his award for innovative work exploring possible new physics beyond the Standard Model, for development of improved techniques for distinguishing events at the Large Hadron Collider involving new physics or unknown interactions, and for developing tools that have helped train aspiring particle phenomenologists confronting the challenges of collider data.

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