UF Astronomy Professor Wins Presidential Young Scientist Award
GAINESVILLE — For the third year in a row, a University of Florida researcher has won a prestigious presidential award for outstanding young scientists and will go to the White House to be recognized.
Astronomy Associate Professor Elizabeth Lada is among the latest recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, which a White House news release called “the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their careers.” The program includes a $500,000 research grant to Lada over a five-year period.
The presidential awards program was started three years ago to recognize demonstrated excellence and promise of future success in scientific or engineering research. A UF professor has been among the 60 winners each year.
“I’m really excited — thrilled actually,” said Lada, a 37-year-old researcher who has already established herself as an expert in star formation. She and the other award winners will be recognized Wednesday by Neal Lane, assistant to the president for science and technology in the Old Executive Office Building in Washington D.C.
Lada came to the University of Florida in 1996 after three years as a Hubble (Telescope) Fellow at the University of Maryland and three years as an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She has a bachelor’s in physics from Yale University and a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin.
Her current work includes trips around the globe to work with an array of telescopes and imaging equipment that can peer through dust clouds in space and provide pictures of new stars.
“I want to understand how stars form from their prenatal clouds of gas and dust and how these infant stars in turn evolve to form their own planetary systems,” Lada said. “One of them could end up like our sun somewhere.”
Lada’s research will be expanded later this month by a NASA rocket scheduled to carry an infrared space telescope designed to survey the outer reaches of the universe during its four-month mission. With a grant from NASA, Lada hopes to use the telescope to inventory star and planet formation in molecular clouds.
“Thanks to considerable investment by the university, the department of astronomy has chalked up a good number of successes recently,” said astronomy Chairman Stanley Dermott. “For two years in a row, our research income has doubled and last year it exceeded $3.6 million. This new award for Dr. Lada is different and special in that it speaks to the quality of the faculty that the department is now recruiting.
A Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers award, Dermott said, “is a clear statement that the University of Florida has managed to recruit the country’s leading young astronomer. She is going to be one of the university’s great professors.”
Elliot Douglas, assistant professor in materials science and engineering, won the award in 1997 and chemistry Professor Robert Kennedy won in 1996.
“The recognition of our faculty for presidential early career awards also recognizes the widespread commitment of the university, through its colleges, to the support and encouragement of faculty quality,” said UF President John Lombardi. “Outstanding faculty come to the university because they find other outstanding faculty here, they find support for their work and they encounter truly superb students. This combination helps very good people be ever more productive and do even better work. We are delighted to celebrate their accomplishments.”