President Obama honors two scholars as extraordinary early-career scientists

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

Asst. Profs. Jonathan Simon and Bozhi Tian are among the 105 researchers that President Obama has named recipients of Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. These awards are the highest honor that the U.S. government bestows on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

“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. “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.”

Simon, a Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in Physics, was nominated for the award by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. He has performed field-opening work on atom-resolved imaging and manipulation of strongly correlated quantum gases, which has garnered him broad recognition as a leader in the field of synthetic quantum materials.

Simon is designing and synthesizing a new class of quantum material composed of light. These photonic quantum materials are unlike any existing materials in that the constituent particles are photons instead of atoms. This work provides experimental access to a new paradigm of coherent, strongly interacting quantum dynamics that had been previously limited to theoretical studies. More practically, the photonic material will be a frontrunner candidate as a quantum repeater node, a photonic quantum gate, and a model of the transport dynamics believed to take place in high-temperature superconductors.

Simon’s honors include a Department of Energy Early Career Award, a Young Investigator Award from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Young Faculty Award, all in 2013. He joined the UChicago faculty in 2012.

Tian, an assistant professor in chemistry and a leader in the emerging field of bionanoelectronics, was nominated for the award by the U.S. Department of Defense. He has made seminal contributions in novel semiconductor materials synthesis, device applications in photovoltaics, intracellular electrophysiology and tissue engineering.

His research focuses on probing the molecular-nano interface between biological and semiconductor systems, a regime for fundamental understanding of cell signaling pathways, bioenergetics and biological cybernetics. He emphasizes novel material synthesis and device concepts, and draws inspiration and methods from a variety of fields, including physical chemistry, materials science, chemical biology and engineering.

Tian also was recently named a recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, which honors early-career scientists and scholars whose achievements and potential identify them as rising stars, the next generation of scientific leaders. In 2015, he was recognized as an Air Force Office of Research Young Investigator. In 2013, Tian was named a Searle Scholar—an honor that includes support to pursue innovative electrical therapy research—and he received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Development CAREER Award.

The Presidential Early Career Awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. Simon and Tian will receive their awards at a ceremony in Washington D.C., this spring.