Five Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named 2017 American Physical Society Fellows

Fellows recognized for their outstanding contributions to astrophysics, materials physics, and nuclear physics

UPTON, NY—The American Physical Society (APS), the world’s largest physics organization, has elected five scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory as 2017 APS fellows. With more than 53,000 members from academia, government, and industry, APS seeks to advance and share physics knowledge through research journals, scientific meetings, and activities in education, outreach, and advocacy. Each year, a very small percentage of APS members are elevated to the status of fellow through a peer nomination process. Fellows are recognized for their exceptional contributions to physics, including in research, applications, leadership and service, and education.  

The 2017 APS fellows representing Brookhaven Lab are Anatoly Frenkel, Morgan May, Rachid Nouicer, Eric Stach, and Peter Steinberg.

Anatoly Frenkel, APS Division of Materials Physics

“For seminal contributions to in situ X-ray absorption spectroscopy, transformative development of structural characterization methods for nanoparticles, and their pioneering applications to a broad range of functional nanomaterials in materials physics and catalysis science.”

Anatoly Frenkel enlarge

Anatoly Frenkel

Anatoly Frenkel holds a joint appointment as a senior chemist in Brookhaven Lab’s Chemistry Division—where he serves as principal investigator of the Structure and Dynamics of Applied Nanomaterials Group—and tenured professor in Stony Brook University’s Materials Science and Chemical Engineering Department. Frenkel’s research focuses on the application of synchrotron-based x-ray methods to characterize materials and study how their structures and properties relate.

In the mid-1990s, while a research scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Frenkel was responsible for the X16-C beamline experiments at Brookhaven Lab’s former National Synchrotron Light Source (replaced by NSLS-II, a DOE Office of Science User Facility). There, he extended the use of x-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) methods to characterize nanoparticle architectures (shape, size, structure, and composition) and physico-chemical properties. Before that time, nanoparticles were perceived in qualitative terms. Using XAS, he led the teams that first discovered negative thermal expansion—a process in which some materials contract instead of expand upon heating—in platinum nanoparticles over a broad range of temperatures. Frenkel and his colleagues were also the first to investigate nanomaterials through diffraction anomalous fine structure, a technique that combines XAS and x-ray diffraction to determine the local arrangement of atoms and electrons within materials. More recently, Frenkel has had a significant impact on the international catalysis community through his work in applying x-ray spectroscopy methods to study how the structure of catalytic nanomaterials changes, in real time and under operating conditions.

In addition to his innovative applications of XAS to nanomaterials, Frenkel has been instrumental in applying x-ray techniques to study the structure-property relationships in a broad range of materials, including those with metal-insulator transitions, semiconductor quantum dots, superconducting phases, and filtration capabilities. Frenkel’s collaborations with other scientists have resulted in his methods being extended to many systems of interest. For example, groups of scientists designing novel electrocatalysts, rewritable optical media, and capacitors have used his methods of analyzing alloys containing two or three metals or other elements.

“I am honored that my work has been elevated to this level of recognition,” said Frenkel. “Since 1996, my collaborators and I have focused on the systematic investigation of finite-size effects in nanomaterials by advanced synchrotron characterization methods. It feels good to know that those explorations brought to light new applications in a diverse range of areas, from catalysis to electromechanical, electronic, optical, and filtration materials.”

Frenkel received his PhD in physics from Tel Aviv University in Israel and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from Saint Petersburg University in Russia. He performed postdoctoral research at the University of Washington and was a physics professor at Yeshiva University for 15 years before joining Stony Brook University in 2016. The home base for his synchrotron work has been Brookhaven Lab, where he co-founded and is the spokesperson for the Synchrotron Catalysis Consortium. Frenkel’s contributions to this consortium—which ran at NSLS for 10 years and will return to NSLS-II in the next few months when x-ray spectroscopy capabilities are ready—have played a critical part in expanding the use of synchrotron x-ray methods in catalysis science.

Morgan May, APS Division of Astrophysics

“For important contributions to techniques for constraining cosmological dark energy parameters through weak lensing, especially the use of novel lensing statistics; and for initiating and leading the astrophysics and cosmology program at Brookhaven National Laboratory.”

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Morgan May

What is the universe made of? Why are distant galaxies moving away from us at accelerated rates? Can gravity be attractive and repulsive? Does Einstein’s theory of general relativity explain what is happening or is that theory incomplete? These are questions that physicist Morgan May—an emeritus scientist at Brookhaven Lab and professor and doctoral student advisor in the Department of Physics at Columbia University—seeks to answer. Since the early 2000s, he has been investigating various topics related to understanding the origin and evolution of the universe.

One such topic is dark energy, which gives rise to a gravitational force that repels and is thought to be the source of the universe’s accelerated expansion.  To understand dark energy, May has developed methods based on gravitational lensing, a phenomenon in which matter bends the path of light. Concentrations of dark matter act as lenses and change the apparent shapes of distant galaxies. The shape changes of billions of galaxies vary in space and time (convergence field), and dark energy determines how the distribution of matter changes over cosmic time.

The standard way of calculating the properties of dark energy from the convergence field made use of only a fraction of its properties, and May’s research led to new statistical analyses that unlocked information not taken into consideration. These analyses have been applied to precursor astronomical surveys of distant galaxies and will be especially important for future high-precision surveys—especially for those of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) for which Brookhaven has developed critical components, including an electronics array for capturing images within the world’s largest digital camera. When fully constructed, LSST will take more than 800 panoramic images of the sky each night for a decade to map tens of billions of stars and galaxies.

Brookhaven joined the LSST project at a very early stage because of May’s efforts to build an astrophysics and cosmology initiative at Brookhaven. Through this initiative, May formed the Astrophysics and Cosmology Group, which he led from 2009 to 2015.

“I am delighted to be elected a fellow of the American Physical Society for my research in astrophysics,” said May. “It is a great honor to be part of the effort to understand our universe. Critical to the success of the astrophysics program at Brookhaven are both the excellent research group and Instrumentation Division scientists whose talents, dedication, and enthusiasm for astrophysics have made our challenging responsibilities for the LSST project a success. I am especially thankful for Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman, with whom I did my thesis work. Lederman brought astrophysics to Fermilab, and I followed his example at Brookhaven.”

May received his doctoral and master’s degrees in physics from Columbia University and his bachelor’s degree in physics from Columbia College. May is an institutional representative of the LSST board of directors at Columbia, a member of the board of directors of the Wu-Yuan Natural Science Foundation, and an associate member of the Simons Foundation’s Center for Computational Astrophysics.

Rachid Nouicer, APS Division of Nuclear Physics

“For his role in the discovery of the Quark Gluon Plasma at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, using particle multiplicity density and heavy quark measurements in the PHOBOS and PHENIX detectors, with leading contributions to the silicon tracker design, construction, and operation and data analyses.”

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Rachid Nouicer

Brookhaven Lab physicist Rachid Nouicer—also a visiting scientist at the RIKEN BNL Research Center and an adjunct professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Stony Brook University—seeks to understand the properties of strongly interacting matter at high temperatures. This understanding is key to unraveling the evolution of the early universe.

For nearly the past 20 years, Nouicer has been making significant contributions to the success of the physics program at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)—a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven. His research focuses on the quark-gluon plasma (QGP), a swirling, scalding “soup” of matter’s fundamental building blocks that filled the early universe. This research started with the PHOBOS experiment and is ongoing through the PHENIX experiment, both international collaborations at RHIC where physicists collide heavy ions, such as the nuclei of gold atoms, to replicate the conditions that existed in the first few microseconds after the Big Bang. In these collisions, the hundreds of protons and neutrons in the nuclei smash into each other with enormous amounts of heat and energy, melting to form the QGP.

For both experiments, Nouicer has contributed to all aspects of the experimental physics processes and has served on physics and detector working groups, review committees, an executive council, and an international conference advisory committee. He has played leading roles in the design, construction, and daily operation of the silicon semiconductor particle detectors that record information about the particles produced in the RHIC collisions, and has helped analyze the data that led to important physics results.

Until the PHOBOS detector was decommissioned in 2005, Nouicer managed and maintained the silicon multiplicity detector array. Nouicer used the silicon detectors to measure the production of particles in all directions, revealing the high energy densities created in the collisions. These measurements were critical in testing theoretical predictions and verifying the role of collision geometry at subatomic scales. He also implemented an algorithm that improved measurements of nuclear matter “flow,” ultimately supporting the discovery of the liquid-behaving QGP at RHIC. For PHENIX, Nouicer was part of the team that constructed a silicon particle-tracking detector for measuring the types, or “flavors,” of rare particles produced in the collisions, particularly the “charm” and “bottom” quarks, which are heavier versions of those that make up ordinary matter. Each flavor has a different mass, and charge, and these measurements help physicists study the properties of the QGP. Nouicer has collaborated on analyzing the PHENIX results of interactions between heavy quarks and the QGP medium—a fundamental test of the hot medium’s ingredients.

Currently, he is the project co-manager of the silicon intermediate tracker for sPHENIX, a new detector planned for RHIC that will help physicists understand how the properties of the QGP emerge from its smallest particles. He is also investigating the possibility of using new active-pixel sensors based on silicon-on-insulator technology for particle detection in experiments at a future electron-ion collider.

“I am truly honored to be named an APS fellow and have my work be recognized by my peers,” said Nouicer. “Throughout my career, I have been very fortunate to work with amazing innovative scientists in my field.”

Nouicer received his highest academic French diploma (Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches) in experimental nuclear physics from the University of Strasbourg, France, and his doctorate and master of advanced studies in nuclear physics from the University Louis Pasteur and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Before joining Brookhaven in 2004, he was a research assistant and then an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he previously completed a postdoctoral fellowship.

Eric Stach, APS Division of Materials Physics

“For development and application of in-situ and operando methods in materials research using transmission electron microscopy, entrepreneurial activity to commercialize these methods, and for sustained service to the community.”

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Eric Stach

Eric Stach led the Electron Microscopy Group at Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN)—a DOE Office of Science User Facility—from 2010 until earlier this year, when he became a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. At CFN, while pursuing his own research, he managed a group of 10 staff members, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students, and oversaw the activity of more than 100 external facility users from around the world each year.

Throughout his career, Stach has been involved in the development and application of different transmission electron microscopy–based experimental methods to characterize nanomaterials, in real time (in situ) and under real operating conditions (operando). He has studied the structure-processing-property relationships in a wide range of materials—including metals, semiconductors, nanostructured forms of carbon, catalysts, battery materials, and catalysts—and across different problems in materials physics.

For example, to understand how stress develops and relaxes in thin film structures, he has developed high-temperature and thermal-cycling microscopy techniques. He pioneered the development of in situ nanoindentation, a method for measuring the mechanical properties of materials inside the microscope. His use of liquid- and especially gas-based methods has led to new understandings of crystal growth at the nanoscale, particularly in carbon nanotubes and semiconductor nanowires. One of his most important recent advances has been a new operando approach that combines electron microscopy and photon-based probes to correlate morphological and structural changes with system function. This approach is likely to impact the field of catalysis, with similar approaches proving useful for understanding the materials science of energy storage materials, photocatalysts, and electrocatalysts.

Stach has commercialized his techniques so that scientists worldwide can advance their science. In 2004, he cofounded and became the chief technology officer of the nanotechnology firm Hummingbird Scientific. In addition to his entrepreneurial activities, Stach is actively engaged in service to the materials community. He regularly gives invited presentations at national and international materials conferences, and is currently serving as the secretary on the Materials Research Society’s board of directors.

“This honor reflects strongly on all of the wonderful collaborations I have had over my career to date, as well as the support from many strong mentors and excellent institutions such as Brookhaven and Lawrence Berkeley national labs and Purdue University,” said Stach. “Microscopists work closely with other parts of the materials physics community to articulate and solve both basic science and technologically important problems. It’s important to work with good people, and I’ve been fortunate to work with many over the years.”

Stach received his PhD and master’s degree in materials science and engineering from the University of Virginia and the University of Washington, respectively, and bachelor’s degree in engineering from Duke University. He is currently pursuing an MBA at Stony Brook University. Before coming to Brookhaven, during which time he also served as an adjunct professor at Stony Brook, he taught at Purdue University for several years. Earlier in his career, he held positions as a staff scientist and principal investigator at the National Center for Electron Microscopy at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Peter Steinberg, APS Division of Nuclear Physics

“For outstanding scientific contributions in the PHOBOS experiment at Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider and the ATLAS experiment at the large hadron collider regarding the effect of geometry on observables in high-energy nuclear collisions and to the development of tools and techniques for characterizing the geometry of these collisions.”

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Peter Steinberg

Physicist Peter Steinberg is part of the PHENIX research group in Brookhaven Lab’s Physics Department. His research focuses on understanding how geometry in high-energy nuclear collisions plays a role in particle production. Over the past 20 years, Steinberg has not only advanced this understanding by demonstrating how physics observables resulting from the collisions depend on quantities derived from geometry (such as the number of participating nucleons, or subatomic particles found in the nucleus of an atom), but also developed widely used tools to estimate these quantities.

His work in this area began with PHOBOS, an experiment at RHIC, in which physicists studied the particles produced in gold-gold collisions to understand the properties of matter and the evolution of our universe. Steinberg joined the collaboration in 1999, shortly before the first collisions, and participated in all PHOBOS research until data collection concluded in 2005, serving as computing coordinator and project manager along the way.

He was one of the first team members to develop techniques for estimating the initial geometry of the collisions and the associated uncertainties. When nuclei collide at RHIC or other particle accelerators, their approximately spherical shapes are “squeezed” in the direction of the particle beam axis because of a length-contraction phenomenon (the Lorentz contraction) and thus look like pancakes. When two such pancakes collide, their overlap region can resemble a variety of shapes, depending on the size of the overlap. Yet these shapes can become distorted and change because the position of the protons and neutrons in each nucleus fluctuates from collision to collision.

Steinberg was one of the first to suggest that the shape relevant for measurements of elliptical flow (how the emitted number of particles varies with direction) involved such fluctuations, leading to several important PHOBOS publications on this topic. This advance led ultimately to the proposal of triangular flow and higher-order flow harmonics (oscillations of different frequencies observed in the angular distributions) that have been observed in experimental data and reproduced by calculations that treat the hot, dense medium created in the collisions as a nearly ideal fluid. The observation of these harmonics provides insight both into the properties of the initial geometric features of the collisions and the way that these features carry over to the final state.

In 2006, he joined the ATLAS experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe, and has been participating in every heavy-ion run since the machine started collisions in 2010. Steinberg has developed similar but more complex techniques for understanding the collisions at LHC, which are between lead ions and occur at much higher energy. From 2015 to 2016, he was the project leader of the ATLAS Zero-Degree Calorimeter, which measures neutral particle production at zero degrees.

Steinberg also helped develop software that provides a common environment for the different experimentalist teams at RHIC and LHC to calculate the initial collision geometry.

“I am truly honored to be recognized by my peers as an APS fellow,” said Steinberg. “I am especially thankful for my collaborators and to Brookhaven for supporting heavy-ion research, both here at RHIC and at the LHC.”

Steinberg received his PhD in physics from MIT and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University. He joined Brookhaven in 1999 after completing postdoctoral work in the Nevis Laboratories at Columbia University. From 2002 to 2003, he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

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