Mason to receive 2012 APS Maria Goeppert Mayer Award

Celia Elliott

The American Physical Society announced on Tuesday that Nadya Mason, assistant professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will receive the Society’s 2012 Maria Goeppert Mayer Award.

“Nadya is a remarkable young experimentalist who works at the intersection of complex materials, superconductivity, and nanotechnology,” said Dale J. Van Harlingen, head of the Department of Physics at Illinois. “She has superb technical skills and excellent taste in selecting important and timely problems and has already made pioneering contributions to the physics and electronic properties of carbon nanotubes and transport in low-dimensional systems at the quantum limit.”

Mason received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University in 1995 and her doctorate in physics from Stanford University in 2001. She returned to Harvard for postdoctoral training, where she was elected junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. She joined the faculty at Illinois in 2005.

Her achievements have previously been recognized by a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2007), a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship (2008), the Denice Denton Emerging Leader Award of the Anita Borg Institute (2009), and a fellowship in the UI Center for Advanced Study (2011).

The Maria Goeppert Mayer Award recognizes outstanding achievement by a woman physicist in the early years of her career. In addition to a cash prize, the Award provides travel support for the recipient to present a series of public lectures in the spirit of Maria Goeppert Mayer, recipient of the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics for her development of a mathematical model describing the nuclear shell structure of the atomic nucleus. Goeppert Mayer was the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, after Marie Curie.

Mason will receive her award at a special session of the American Physical Society’s annual meeting in Boston in March 2012.

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Imagine planting a single seed and, with great precision, being able to predict the exact height of the tree that grows from it. Now imagine traveling to the future and snapping photographic proof that you were right.

If you think of the seed as the early universe, and the tree as the universe the way it looks now, you have an idea of what the Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration has just done. In a presentation today at the American Physical Society Division of Particles and Fields meeting at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, DES scientists will unveil the most accurate measurement ever made of the present large-scale structure of the universe.

These measurements of the amount and “clumpiness” (or distribution) of dark matter in the present-day cosmos were made with a precision that, for the first time, rivals that of inferences from the early universe by the European Space Agency’s orbiting Planck observatory. The new DES result (the tree, in the above metaphor) is close to “forecasts” made from the Planck measurements of the distant past (the seed), allowing scientists to understand more about the ways the universe has evolved over 14 billion years.

“This result is beyond exciting,” said Scott Dodelson of Fermilab, one of the lead scientists on this result. “For the first time, we’re able to see the current structure of the universe with the same clarity that we can see its infancy, and we can follow the threads from one to the other, confirming many predictions along the way.”

It took two years on a supercomputer to simulate 1.2 microseconds in the life of the HIV capsid, a protein cage that shuttles the HIV virus to the nucleus of a human cell. The 64-million-atom simulation offers new insights into how the virus senses its environment and completes its infective cycle.

The findings are reported in the journal Nature Communications.