Fellowship recognizes professors for studies

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded two Rutgers faculty members — John Paul Chou in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Malin Pinksy in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Sciences — $50,000 grants for their scientific contributions in their fledgling careers.

The Sloan Foundation grants are typically given to young scientists and scholars who show promise in their fields of study, said Chou, who spoke over the phone from the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN supercollider in Switzerland.

“It’s a prestigious award. They like to highlight the number of people who won this award that have also gone on to win noble prizes … and other important awards,” he said. “It’s a very great distinction for young faculty.”

Chou said his research is in the field of high energy physics.

 “I work on the [Compact Muon Solenoid] experiment … which [is one of two experiments] responsible for discovering the Higgs boson in July of 2012,” he said.

The Higgs boson is the elusive “God particle” that the particle collider was built for. Since its discovery, Chou said he has been working on confirming extensions to the standard model of physics.

Chou’s focus was on extra dimensions and dark matter, both of which are being probed in order to better understand what the standard model is lacking, he said.

“There are lots of reasons to think that there is more physics beyond what we have already observed,” he said. “We know that because we see dark matter in the universe … and even the Higgs boson itself has properties that require new phenomena to be explained.”

He said he planned to use the grant money from Sloan to fund extra research, equipment and travel to and from the supercollider.

“[The grant] is completely open-ended,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing where I can use it to enhance anything from funding to students to travel to equipment I need to buy. It’s a great resource to have.”

Pinsky is studying the effects of climate change on oceanic life and aquamarine food webs, he said. He was one of eight recipients of the grant nationwide who studies ocean sciences.

“[I study] the impact of a changing climate and climate variability on marine life,” he said. “I try to understand how changes in temperature and ocean conditions have affected marine fish and vertebrates.”

Pinsky said a major goal of his research is to develop the ability to predict what will happen because of climate change in the future in order to help humans adapt their behavior.

He said the grant allows him to improve the quality of his research by expanding a side project he is working on that is trying to explain how interactions between fish and other species are affecting their ability to respond and adapt to climate change.

Pinsky said to apply for the Sloan Foundation award he had to sum up what he was doing in a single page.

“You know, it is actually quite a challenge trying to boil down what I do to something so concise and yet also really try to get the important stuff in there,” he said.

He will use some of the grant money to support the researchers who work with him, he said.

Another possible use for the grant would be to study a coral reef damaged by a typhoon near the Philippines to better understand how reefs respond to extreme storms.

Lauren Magnusson, a Rutgers alumna, said she was impressed by the quality of research coming out of the University.

“While I was [at the University] I met both students and professors alike who blew me away,” she said. “I came to Rutgers for the sports, but I would make the same decision again for how impressive their contributions to academia are.”

She said both Chou’s and Pinsky’s works were noble pursuits that should be receiving this sort of funding.

“Climate change affects all of us and we should be listening to the scientists, not the policy makers,” she said. “And physics maps the universe we live in, so I couldn’t think of a better use for the grant money than trying to improve our understanding of it.”

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