Argonne National Laboratory

Two Argonne scientists receive DOE Early Career Research Program awards

August 22, 2017

By Savannah Mitchem and Joan Koka

Tom Peterka and Matt Dietrich, two scientists from Argonne National Laboratory, have received Early Career Research Program awards from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science.

The DOE Early Career Research Program, now in its eighth year, identifies and supports exceptional, promising young researchers. The program awards Peterka for his research on data storage and analysis, and Dietrich for his work exploring new physics beyond the Standard Model. Under the program, each researcher will each receive $2.5 million over five years to advance their research.

“We need to fundamentally rethink how scientific data are represented.” - Tom Peterka, Argonne computer scientist


Peterka, an Argonne computer scientist, works to redefine scientific data models to be communicated, stored and analyzed more efficiently. As the amount of data grows, scientists’ ability to share and interpret this data is lagging behind.

One cause of the data logjam is that the familiar scientific data model, which represents raw values at individual positions, creates extremely large data sets that are too cumbersome to handle properly, Peterka said.

“To break out of this spiral, we need to fundamentally rethink how scientific data are represented,” Peterka said.

Peterka and his research group are developing a new, more efficient way to represent data. They can accommodate many types of scientific datasets on high-performance supercomputers, opening the doors to deeper analytical reasoning.

“The new model uses continuous, functional approximations and is directly usable in many data analysis and visualization methods. That means for many purposes, we never have to revert back to the original individual data points,” Peterka said.

With the Early Career funds, Peterka will research how to approximate scientific datasets on exascale machines, extremely fast supercomputers that Argonne is helping develop. Peterka and his team are researching how to quantify and reduce the new model’s degree of error and reduce data size.

“We are also devoting time to applications of the new model, including simulations, experiments, analyses and visualizations,” said Peterka.

Peterka’s new data approach will improve the way scientists manage the large amount of data being produced by faster and faster computers. It is set to transform data-heavy fields such as computational fluid dynamics, astrophysics and even weather prediction.

“We’d expect nearly perfect symmetry to exist between matter and antimatter. However, we see no antimatter out there; the universe is entirely made up of matter. Why this is remains a mystery.” - Matt Dietrich, Argonne physicist

Dietrich, an Argonne physicist, receives recognition for his work probing potential new physics beyond the Standard Model that could help explain why matter came to dominate the universe.

Specifically, his work focuses on measuring a property of radium atoms known as an electric dipole moment (EDM). Based on the Standard Model, the fundamental theory of particle physics that underlies everything we know about nature, this property is so small that it is effectively zero. But new theories of physics predict that it will be much bigger than that.

“If we see an EDM, this would violate one of the principles in the Standard Model known as time reversal symmetry,” Dietrich said.

Time reversal symmetry tells us that a process should be physically possible whether it proceeds forwards or backward in time. The Standard Model is almost perfectly symmetric in time.

“If you apply this concept to the universe, we’d expect nearly perfect symmetry to exist between matter and antimatter. However, we see no antimatter out there; the universe is entirely made up of matter. Why this is remains a mystery,” Dietrich said.

“Seeing an EDM would provide us physicists with clues and a starting point for making changes to the Standard Model and solving this great mystery.”

The Department of Energy named 59 Early Career award winners this year, out of a total of 700 DOE researchers who were eligible for an award. The awards are funded by DOE’s Office of Science.

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.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.