President Barack Obama '83 has named Greg Howes '93one of this year's recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government to scientists and engineers in the early stages of their research careers.
Howes, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa, researches kinetic astrophysical plasma turbulence. Scientists must understand the behavior of plasma, which is ubiquitous in space, to interpret a large body of astronomical observations. He is the second Oxy alumnus to receive the award; Jason Graetz '98, a materials scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, is a 2009 recipient.
"It is inspiring to see the innovative work being done by these scientists and engineers as they ramp up their careers-careers that I know will be not only personally rewarding but also invaluable to the nation," Obama said in a written statement. "That so many of them are also devoting time to mentoring and other forms of community service speaks volumes about their potential for leadership, not only as scientists but as model citizens."
Howes said he was "delighted" by the award, and also gave credit to his research collaborators.
"It's great to get recognition, and my colleagues at UI and other collaborators have played a large role," he said. "While our research does not have an immediate impact in our daily lives, it extends our knowledge of how our universe works from a fundamental point of view."
Sixteen federal departments and agencies nominate scientists and engineers for the award, and NASA selected Howes for improving the understanding of turbulence dissipation and the consequent heating of heliospheric plasmas, as well as for his leadership in education and outreach activities. In addition to his faculty appointment at the University of Iowa, Howes conducts research for NASA, and the award confers a $300,000 grant to continue this work.
"We are thrilled to honor these outstanding early-career scientists, and will look forward to their ongoing contributions to the exploration of our planet, our solar system, and our place in the universe," said NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati in a written statement. "The work of these talented individuals will help us turn the dreams of today into the reality of tomorrow."
This is a big year for Howes. In February, he also received a $1-million five-year National Science Foundation Faculty Career Development Award grant. He will use the funds to study the near-Earth solar wind, which influences phenomena such as the northern lights and can interfere with satellite-based communications systems.
As a student at Occidental, Howes was enrolled in the College's 3/2 combined plan program in physics and liberal arts. He consequently earned a B.A. in physics from the College and a B.A. in applied physics from Caltech. He went on to earn a master's degree and a Ph.D in physics from UCLA. Prior to joining the University of Iowa faculty, Howes was an assistant professional research astronomer at UC Berkeley. He also taught physics at Oxy as an adjunct in 1996-1997 and 2000.
President Bill Clinton established the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers in 1996. For a complete list of this year's winners, gohere.