President Honors DoD Early Career Scientists\ Engineers


Terri Moon Cronk

WASHINGTON—Seventeen Defense Department employees were among the more than 100 researchers who received this year’s Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.

The award recipients met with President Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House on May 5, where he personally congratulated each of them, White House press officials said.

In February, the president named this year’s PECASE award recipients, who are employed or funded by 12 federal agencies. “These early career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness,” Obama said in a statement issued Feb. 18. “We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people.”

Coveted Award

The PECASE is considered the highest level U.S. Government recognition of science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. Other awardee considerations include their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach, White House officials said.

In a ceremony at the Agriculture Department May 3, Mary Miller, principal deputy, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering and Jo Handelsman, associate director for science at the White House office of science and technology policy, awarded the recipients certificates signed by the president.

“I congratulate all of the recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers,” Miller said.

“The Defense Department is pleased to recognize the efforts of these 17 awardees in receiving our nation’s highest honor for early career science and engineering achievement,” she said. “We wish them all great success in their careers and look forward to their future contributions in their fields.”


Promising Work Recognized

Nominees are the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promises for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering, and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions, White House officials said.

Established by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996, the awards program highlights the key role the federal government places in encouraging and accelerating American innovation to grow the economy and tackle its greatest challenges, White House officials said.

2016 DoD PECASE Recipients:

  • Deji Akinwande: For his outstanding research accomplishments in nanomaterials, graphene device physics, opto-electronics, and for his dedication to the education of future scientists and engineers.
  • Dino Di Carlo: For his pioneering work in fluid inertia for precision control of cells and particles, developing fundamental new methods of measuring cell physical properties and applying these measures to diagnose disease, and for his mentoring of the next generation of leaders who can implement engineering solutions to improve health.
  • Jin-Hee Cho: For her fundamental contributions to the science of cyber trust, network security, and tactical network applications; for her dedication to mentoring students, and for her leadership in the broader research community.
  • Sarah E. Cowie: For her outstanding research accomplishments in social-power relationships and heritage studies; for her work regarding social theories of governmentality, discourse analysis, social capital, and actor-network theory, which is advancing the fields of archaeology, anthropology, indigenous studies, and related disciplines; and for her important contributions in support of Native American communities.
  • Dr. Heather F. Pidcoke: For her fundamental contributions to developing safe and effective insulin infusion protocols for the care of critically ill patients, and burn patients in particular; for her dedication and leadership in applying multidisciplinary approaches to improving the care of combat casualties; and for her dedication to mentoring next generation scientists.
  • James Rondinelli: For his seminal research contributions in computational physics and novel materials design approaches. As a graduate student, he transformed the scientific community’s approach to designing multiferroic materials using broken the inversion symmetry at interfaces. As a postdoctoral fellow, he provided the first-ever methodology for predicting the relationship between strain and octahedral rotations in complex oxides, paving the way for the design of many-body quantum properties in ways previously not considered possible.
  • Luke Zettlemoyer: For his outstanding research accomplishments in computational semantics, particularly his innovative approaches for problems in natural language understanding and for his dedication to education of the next generation of scientists and engineers.
  • Pieter Abbeel: For his contributions to machine learning and robotic manipulation of deformable objects and his dedication to education of the next generation of scientists and engineers.
  • Patrick E. Hopkins: For his contributions to the fields of nanoscale heat transfer and interfacial thermal processes, and for mentoring and providing research opportunities for high school and undergraduate students.
  • Colin Joye: For his outstanding research accomplishments in microfabrication techniques, pioneering work in imaging and communications, and for his dedication to outreach and mentoring students around the world.
  • Jennifer Miksis-Olds: For her research accomplishments in marine mammal ecology, fish ecology, and marine acoustics; for her work to enhance understanding of global ocean noise and its impact on marine mammal acoustic communication; and for her educational outreach and community service.
  • Bozi Tian: For his seminal contributions in novel semiconductor materials synthesis, devising applications in photovoltaics, intracellular electrophysiology, and tissue engineering; and for leadership in promoting interdisciplinary research and mentoring of minority undergraduate and high school students.
  • Alon Gorodetsky: For his outstanding research accomplishments in organic and biological electronics and electroluminescent devices and his commitment to training and mentoring the next generation of scientists.
  • Elad Harel: For his pioneering work on the development of powerful optical techniques to probe the structure and dynamics of complex chemical systems; for his commitment to cross-disciplinary research and education, and for his leadership in the scientific community.
  • Anya Jones: For her outstanding contributions to foundational research in aerodynamics, and for her dedicated community service through which she inspires young people from underrepresented groups to seek careers in science and engineering.
  • Lena F. Kourkoutis: For her outstanding research accomplishments in the development and applications of atomic resolution electron microscopy and spectroscopy; for fundamental contributions to the discovery and control of new multifunctional materials; and for her dedication to the education of future scientists and engineers.
  • Timothy M. Ombrello: For his outstanding research in the fundamentals of plasma and combustion systems, for his distinguished technical contributions to the Air Force, and for his dedication to mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Award recipients also represented the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, and Interior and Veterans Affairs, in addition to the Environmental Protection Agency, the intelligence community, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation.