Two UGA researchers honored in White House ceremony

Two UGA researchers honored in White House ceremony

Athens, Ga. – Two University of Georgia scientists have been awarded the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists and engineers beginning their careers.

Sonia Altizer, associate professor in the Odum School of Ecology, and Chad Fertig, assistant professor of physics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, were among 68 researchers honored with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) at a White House Ceremony today.

According to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, “Selection for the award is based on the combination of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and community service demonstrated through scientific leadership and community outreach.”

“This is a tremendous honor for Dr. Altizer and Dr. Fertig, and I congratulate them on behalf of the entire university,” said UGA President Michael F. Adams. “The fact that two of the 68 honorees are on this campus speaks to the growing strength of the UGA research program in the sciences and the university’s commitment to supporting and developing outstanding young faculty.”

Altizer studies the ecological and genetic relationships between pathogens and their hosts. Her current research explores how long-distance migration in animals influences the spread and impacts of infectious diseases, using monarch butterflies and a microscopic parasite as a model system. Altizer also uses large-scale databases to examine how mammalian ecology and behavior influence parasite infections and has conducted field studies to ask how seasonality and urbanization influence disease outbreaks in songbirds. Altizer has helped connect the public with scientific research through a recently developed a citizen science project in which volunteers from across North America examine monarch butterfly-parasite interactions. Altizer was nominated by the National Science Foundation, which has awarded her a $679,000, five-year grant through its Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award.

Fertig uses extremely low-temperatures gasses known as Bose-Einstein condensates to explore magnetism on the atomic level. The insights, tools and techniques gained from his research can lead to the development of remarkably precise navigational instruments that measure the strength and direction of magnetic fields, inertial sensors that can track location based on factors such as orientation and velocity, and ultra-fast quantum computers. Fertig, who was nominated by the Department of Defense, also was recognized for his role in creating links between university faculty and high school educators to promote careers in science and technology among youth.

“This is first and foremost a tribute to Sonia and Chad, and the quality and creativity of their scholarship,” said Vice President for Research David Lee. “The fact that two UGA faculty members received this remarkable distinction in the same year also speaks volumes about the quality of hiring by our colleges and departments, as well as UGA’s growing reputation as a top-tier research university.”

The PECASE Program was established in 1996 and embodies the high priority placed by the government on maintaining the leadership position of the United States in science by producing outstanding scientists and engineers and nurturing their continued development.