Emory physicist wins national presidential award

05/05/04

Eric Weeks, an Emory University assistant professor of physics, is the recipient of a 2002 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the nation's highest honor for professionals at the outset of their independent research careers. The awards were announced May 4 by the White House, and Weeks joined 57 other researchers in a ceremony presided over by John H. Marburger III, science advisor to President George W. Bush and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, established in 1996, honor the most promising new researchers in the nation within their fields. Eight federal departments and agencies annually nominate scientists and engineers at the start of their careers whose work shows the greatest promise to benefit the agency's mission. Participating agencies award these beginning scientists and engineers up to five years of funding to further their research in support of critical government missions.

"This award is not only a great honor for Eric and a well-earned recognition of his extraordinary achievements in research, but it brings honor and recognition to the entire university. We in the physics department are highly honored to have him as a colleague and member of our faculty," says Ray DuVarney, chairman of Emory's Department of Physics.

Weeks is a specialist in soft-matter physics, and studies the fundamental mysteries behind substances that exist at the intersection between solids and liquids. These include both common window glass, and also "squishy materials," such as foam, gel and sand. Weeks hopes to uncover the physics behind how these materials behave and form, a subject that is still a puzzle for scientists.

"I examine how the microscopic structure of the elements relate to their distinctive, observable properties," he says. "We understand, to a degree, atoms, crystals, why water freezes, chemical bonds," says Weeks. "But with the glass transition, it's all one very big conjecture right now, and it's amazing how little we understand of it."

Weeks' work has attracted the attention of the food, beverage and skin care industries, as well as NASA, which nominated him for the award. Weeks, with colleagues from the University of Michigan and Harvard University, has designed experiments to test the physics of colloids in space. Colloids are microscopic particles that are dispersed in a fluid and are common to everyday life, such as paint, ink and milk. The purpose of the NASA experiment is to gain a more fundamental understanding of how the properties of the colloids affect the overall behavior of the liquid.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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