freshly funded

3 Texas energy researchers earn early-career grants

Three researchers from Texas are among 93 early career scientists who will receive a collective $135 million in funding for projects lasting up to five years in duration. Photo via Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded funds to three Texas university researchers as part of its 2023 Early Career Research Program.

The researchers from Texas A&M University, University of Houston, and University of North Texas are among 93 early career scientists who will receive a collective $135 million in funding for projects lasting up to five years in duration. The DOE said in a statement that $69 million of those funds will be doled out in Fiscal Year 2023.

The funding is part of the DOE Office of Science’s Early Career Research Program which aims to support U.S. scientists during their formative years. Awardees must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professor at a U.S. academic institution or a full-time employee at a DOE National Laboratory who received a Ph.D. within the past 12 years to receive the funding.

“Supporting America’s scientists and researchers early in their careers will ensure the United States remains at the forefront of scientific discovery,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm says in a statement. “The funding announced today gives the recipients the resources to find the answers to some of the most complex questions as they establish themselves as experts in their fields.”

This year's Texas researchers were:

  • Youtong Zheng, Assistant Professor Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Houston: Zheng's work focuses on how air pollution in urban communities relates to the intensification of storms, known as the aerosol invigoration effect. This research aims to use the DOE's Simple Cloud-Resolving E3SM Atmosphere Model (SCREAM) to improve the predictability of coastal-urban systems and improve DOE models.
  • Philip Adsley, Assistant Professor Department of Physics & Astronomy and Cyclotron Institute at Texas A&M University: Adsley looks at the dipole response of nuclei. The research will "develop independent calibration standards for dipole response measurements to validate modern experimental studies and investigate historical experimental discrepancies," according to an abstract. Experiments will be performed at Texas A&M, in Germany and in South Africa.
  • Omar Valsson, Assistant Professor Department of Chemistry at the University of North Texas: Valsson's research considers the polymorphism of molecular crystals. The research looks to develop a free energy sampling method for polymorphic transitions that can be applied to a wide range of molecular crystal systems. The findings have applications in chemistry, materials science, and the pharmaceutical and semiconductor industries, according to an abstract.

Since the DOE launched the Early Career Research Program in 2010 it has made 868 awards to university and National Lab researchers.

Earlier this summer the DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, announced $100 million in funding for its SCALEUP program at a Rice University event. Joe Zhou, CEO of Houston-based Quidnet Energy, spoke at the event on how the DOE funding benefitted his company.

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A View From HETI

A View From UH

A Rice University professor studied the Earth's carbon cycle in the Rio Madre de Dios to shed light on current climate conditions. Photo courtesy of Mark Torres/Rice University

Carbon cycles through Earth, its inhabitants, and its atmosphere on a regular basis, but not much research has been done on that process and qualifying it — until now.

In a recent study of a river system extending from the Peruvian Andes to the Amazon floodplains, Rice University’s Mark Torres and collaborators from five institutions proved that that high rates of carbon breakdown persist from mountaintop to floodplain.

“The purpose of this research was to quantify the rate at which Earth naturally releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and find out whether this process varies across different geographic locations,” Torres says in a news release.

Torres published his findings in a study published in PNAS, explaining how they used rhenium — a silvery-gray, heavy transition metal — as a proxy for carbon. The research into the Earth’s natural, pre-anthropogenic carbon cycle stands to benefit humanity by providing valuable insight to current climate challenges.

“This research used a newly-developed technique pioneered by Robert Hilton and Mathieu Dellinger that relies on a trace element — rhenium — that’s incorporated in fossil organic matter,” Torres says. “As plankton die and sink to the bottom of the ocean, that dead carbon becomes chemically reactive in a way that adds rhenium to it.”

The research was done in the Rio Madre de Dios basin and supported by funding from a European Research Council Starting Grant, the European Union COFUND/Durham Junior Research Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation.

“I’m very excited about this tool,” Torres said. “Rice students have deployed this same method in our lab here, so now we can make this kind of measurement and apply it at other sites. In fact, as part of current research funded by the National Science Foundation, we are applying this technique in Southern California to learn how tectonics and climate influence the breakdown of fossil carbon.”

Torres also received a three-year grant from the Department of Energy to study soil for carbon storage earlier this year.

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