Three UC Berkeley researchers named outstanding young scientists by President Clinton

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- Three young scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, were among 60 researchers who today received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

The awards, announced by President Clinton, are the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers.

The UC Berkeley recipients are Roya Maboudian, associate professor of chemical engineering; physicist Andrew Westphal, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory; and Krishna Niyogi, assistant professor of plant and microbial biology.

The awards were established by President Clinton in 1996, an indication of the high priority his administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers and nurturing their continued development.

Eight federal departments join together annually to nominate the most meritorious young researchers "who will broadly advance science and technology that will be of the greatest benefit to the participating government agencies," according to the White House

"These talented young men and women show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge," Clinton said. "Their passion for discovery will spark our can-do spirit of technological innovation and drive this nation forward to build a better America for the twenty-first century."

At a ceremony this afternoon (Feb. 10) in the White House, Neal Lane, the President's Science Advisor and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, cited the honorees "for their research contributions, for their promise, and for their commitment to broader societal goals."

Maboudian, who has been at UC Berkeley since 1993, specializes in the study of surfaces at the microscopic and atomic level. These interests include the chemistry that takes place at the surface of solids, including semiconductors; how friction and adhesion work at this scale, and how that affects the workings of microscopic motors and other MEMS devices; and the structure of surfaces as revealed by atomic force microscopes.

With a PhD from Caltech, she has received numerous awards, including the National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award in 1994 and the Beckman Young Investigator Award in 1996.

Westphal, who received has PhD from UC Berkeley in 1992, has been investigating the origin and composition of cosmic rays. Last year he published with physics professor Buford Price the results of a long-running experiment called Trek that was mounted on the Russian space station Mir. Their data allowed them to eliminate a couple of the reigning theories of how these energetic particles are produced and accelerated to high energy.

He plans to continue these cosmic ray studies with one of the first experiments to go up on the new space station, perhaps as early as 2003. Called ECCO, or Extremely Heavy Cosmic Ray Composition Observer, its goal is to determine where galactic cosmic ray nuclei originate and how old the galaxy is.

Niyogi is interested in ways of improving food crops, and studies the environmental factors that control plant productivity. He currently focuses on antioxidants such as xanthophyll, which protect plants from destructive oxidants produced by such things as too much light. He also is looking for ways to increase the number of these antioxidants in crop plants.

A second major interest is how photosynthesis is regulated in plants under adverse conditions. This may lead to ways to protect crops against such stresses as high light, drought and extreme temperature.

Niyogi, who received his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993, has been at UC Berkeley since 1997.

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