Argonne physicist Chang receives DOE Early Career award

By Jared SagoffMay 15, 2013

LEMONT, Ill. – Argonne National Laboratory physicist Clarence Chang has been selected as one of 61 recipients of the Early Career Research Program award from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The award recognizes Chang’s research on the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is the radiation signature left over from the infancy of the universe right after the Big Bang. 

“The Early Career Research Program reflects the Administration's strong commitment to creating jobs and new industries through scientific innovation," said Daniel Poneman, Acting Secretary of Energy.  "Strong support of scientists early in their careers is crucial to sustaining America's scientific workforce and assuring U.S. leadership in discovery and innovation for many years to come."

Under the program, university-based researchers will receive at least $150,000 per year to cover summer salary and research expenses. For researchers based at the Department's national laboratories where the Department typically covers the full salary and expenses of laboratory employees, grants will be at least $500,000 per year to cover year-round salary plus research expenses. The funding is for the first year of planned five-year research grants, subject to congressional appropriations.

“I’m very honored to receive this award,” Chang said.  “Argonne is a special lab – all of the ingredients for success are here on the same campus."

Awardees were selected from a pool of 770 university- and national laboratory-based applicants. To view a list of the 61 awardees, their institutions, and the titles of their research projects, visit the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science website.

To be eligible for the award, a researcher must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professor at a U.S. academic institution or a full-time employee at a national laboratory who has received a Ph.D. within the last 10 years.

The goal of Chang’s research will be to measure for the first time a faint signal located in the polarization pattern of the CMB.

“The CMB is an image of the early universe and a unique window into fundamental physics,” Chang said.

By detecting this signal, called “B-modes,” Chang expects to gain insight into the very first infinitesimal fractions of a second of the universe’s existence. In the instants between 10-36 and 10-32 seconds after the universe was born, it expanded extraordinarily rapidly in a process physicists call “inflation.”

Data concerning B-modes can also help scientists to measure the mass of neutrinos. Scientists in the first part of the 20th Century had initially assumed that the extremely tiny neutrino – an elementary particle – was massless. However, later research found that neutrinos can change their identity among three different types, or “flavors,” in a process scientists call “oscillation.” In order for neutrinos to oscillate, scientists realized that the particles must have a mass, although no one has been able to measure the mass of neutrinos precisely.

The Early Career award will support the analysis of CMB data acquired through the use of a special instrument installed on the South Pole Telescope.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.