UChicago physicist William Irvine selected for $2 million Brown Investigator Award

Inaugurated this year, award recognizes curiosity-driven basic research in chemistry and physics

The Brown Science Foundation announced March 8 that it has chosen University of Chicago Prof. William Irvine for its inaugural Brown Investigator Award.

The award, which recognizes curiosity-driven basic research in chemistry and physics, supports the investigators’ research with $2 million over five years to their respective universities. Irvine, who researches fundamental problems in fluid dynamics and condensed matter, is one of two scientists chosen, along with David Hsieh of Caltech.

“Even among a strong group of candidates, Hsieh and Irvine stood out for their scientific vision and willingness to take risk,” said Marc Kastner, senior science advisor for the Science Philanthropy Alliance and chairman of the foundation’s scientific advisory board, which selected the winners. “They’re clear examples of America’s reservoir of mid-career scientists with the proven track record and restless minds needed to advance daring ideas.”

Irvine’s research spans soft condensed matter, optics and topological fluid mechanics, with an interest in geometry and advanced optical techniques. Many phenomena in nature, from complex flows to the ways materials self-assemble and break, are underpinned by elegant geometric and topological mechanisms; a focus of the lab’s research is to seek and unravel the presence of these powerful interpretative keys.

“I am humbled and grateful to be among the first recipients of this prestigious award which recognizes mid-career work, and am excited to dive into new directions, starting with turbulence—the ubiquitous phenomenon by which a smooth fluid flow breaks up into smaller and smaller vortices,” Irvine said.

Irvine’s previous awards include the NSF Career Award, a Sloan Fellowship and a Packard Fellowship.

The Brown Science Foundation, a member of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, was established in 1992 by Ross M. Brown. The foundation announced its invitation-only Brown Investigator Award program in 2020 with plans to make eight awards annually by 2025. The program supports the often-overlooked resource of mid-career physics and chemistry researchers in the U.S. According to its website, the foundation is “dedicated to the belief that scientific discovery is a driving force in the improvement of the human condition.”