25 April 2013

MagLab researchers bring home honors


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Magnet Lab scientists Peter Lee and Dragana Popović have been recognized with 2013 Distinguished University Scholar awards from Florida State University — the only two recipients of the prestigious award this year. Additionally, MagLab-affiliate Professor Rufina Alamo has received a 2013 FSU Distinguished Research Professor award.

Peter Lee.Peter Lee.“These well-deserved honors highlight the accomplishments of three of the lab’s many outstanding researchers,” said Director Greg Boebinger. “That both of this year’s FSU Distinguished University Scholar awards went to Magnet Lab scientists speaks volumes about the high-level of multidisciplinary expertise we have at the MagLab, as well as the ground-breaking research that we do here.”

The annual scholar award showcases the work of exemplary and creative researchers who are not tenured or tenure-seeking. The research professor award recognizes outstanding faculty members known for their pioneering research and/or creative work.

In addition to the recognition and respect of their peers, all three scientists will receive a one-time $10,000 award.

Superconducting expert

Lee, who is also the associate director of the lab’s Applied Superconductivity Center, has been studying superconductivity — the ability of some materials to conduct tremendous amounts of electricity without resistance — for more than two decades.

“Peter’s work as a scholar has clearly impacted all major national and international projects that use superconducting wires and magnets, involving billions of dollars of investment and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual commerce,” said Lance Cooley, who oversees the Superconducting Materials Department at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. “His contributions have placed him irrefutably as the highest expert in the world regarding the architecture and structure of superconducting wires.”

Lee has worked extensively on a multinational energy project called ITER, now underway in France, that could revolutionize the world’s energy supply. His contributions to this fusion-energy project have been significant, said David Larbalestier, who is both a long-time colleague and the director of the Applied Superconductivity Center.

“What he has done for ITER has been absolutely without peer and absolutely vital for convincing the ITER magnet community that the ITER conductors really will be safe for use in the reactor over 20 years or more of cyclic energizations,” Larbalestier said. “There really is no one of the same caliber in the field.”

Lee, whose research has been funded continuously since 1993, was recently awarded a three-year, $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to investigate superconducting materials. He is a principal investigator on multiple domestic and international grants.

Experimental physicist

Popović — who is considered one of the MagLab’s leading condensed-matter physicists — strives to understand novel materials with unique magnetic, optical and electrical properties. Her experimental research paves the way for new technologies.

“I knew I was in the running, but I was very happy to be selected,” said Popović, whose research has been continuously funded for the last 18 years by National Science Foundation grants. “I appreciate the fact that FSU wants to recognize its non-tenure-earning faculty.”

Joerg Schmalian, who heads the Institute for Theory of Condensed Matter at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, said Popović is an excellent choice for the award.

“Dragana is a first-rate experimental physicist with great vision and deep theoretical understanding of the problems that underlie her experimental work,” the physics professor said. “Her work ... has not only inspired my own research projects, but influenced a large number of leading researchers worldwide ... making her a true leader of the field.”

Boebinger agreed. “Dr. Popović has become an outstanding physicist who has earned an international reputation as a profound thinker and leading experimentalist in the physics of disordered low-dimensional systems.”

Popović has also served as the chair of the MagLab’s Diversity Committee since it was established in 2004, he added, “effectively leading the entire MagLab Diversity Program from its inception.”

Chemical engineer

Alamo, a MagLab affiliate, is a professor in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. Alamo and Popović — as well as MagLab physicist Luis Balicas — were also recently tapped as 2012 fellows with the American Physical Society, an honor bestowed on only one-half of 1 percent of the society’s 50,000 members.

Alamo studies structure-property relationships in polyolefins, a popular type of plastic found in cling wrap, milk carton coatings, electric cable coating and much more.

“The work I do with polymers literally touches every type of synthetic material used in things you find everywhere, from the heaviest plastics used in prosthetics to the lightest plastic bag in the produce section of your local grocery store,” Alamo said. “My research comes up with the recipes for how to modify polymers or how to process them to meet the specific needs of a particular product.”

Her research is currently funded by a four-year, $460,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and a three-year, $250,000 grant from Exxon-Mobil.

The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet facility. Located at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the interdisciplinary National MagLab hosts scientists from around the world to perform basic research in high magnetic fields, advancing our understanding of materials, energy and life. The lab is funded by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1157490) and the state of Florida. For more information, visit us online at nationalmaglab.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at NationalMagLab.