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Mount Holyoke Physics Prof Wins NSF Award

Katherine Aidala, the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Physics at Mount Holyoke College, has won the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Early Career Award for her work in nanophysics – work aimed at finding cost-effective solutions to the world's energy problems.

According to the NSF, Aidala's award supports “the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization.” The grant will support her research proposal, "Local Charge, Polarization, and Transport of Nanocrystal Quantum Dot Solid State Structures Using Scanning Probe Microscopy."

Aidala compares her research in plastic electronics to "a flexible piece of clear plastic acting like a television.” Her work “has the potential to impact photovoltaics and solid state lighting, leading to more efficient and cost-effective solutions to the world’s energy problems,” she said.

“I'm pleased and honored to have received the Early Career Award from the NSF,” Aidala said. “This will enable me to steer some of my research in an exciting new direction.”

Aidala joined the Mount Holyoke faculty in 2006; she earned her undergraduate degree at Yale in 2001 as a double major in applied physics and psychology. She went on to graduate school in applied physics at Harvard and received her Ph.D. there in 2006. Her thesis involved imaging electron motion in magnetic fields in a two-dimensional electron gas. She continues to focus on scanning probe microscopy as a flexible technique to study a variety of nanoscale systems. She is conducting research this year at MIT with a group of scientists doing quantum dot work.

Aidala is the eighth Mount Holyoke professor to earn a NSF Early Career Award. Becky Wai-Ling Packard, associate professor of psychology and education; Jill Bubier, Marjorie Fisher Professor of Environmental Studies; Janice Hudgings, associate professor and chair of physics; Craig Woodard, professor of biological sciences and associate dean of faculty for science and Science Center; Rachel Fink, professor of biological sciences; Sean Decatur, former chemistry professor and associate dean of faculty for science and Science Center; and Aaron Ellison, former Marjorie Fisher Professor of Environmental Studies, have also won the award.

“These Early Career Awards are extremely difficult to get, and highly competitive. The proposal requires that investigators submit a first rate research plan and an integrated educational plan,” said dean of faculty Donal O’Shea. “The success rate is only about 15 percent, and most of the awards go to researchers in large research-intensive universities many times our size. Mount Holyoke's success rate is nothing short of astonishing.”

Mount Holyoke, the oldest women's college in the country, is one of the nation's finest liberal arts colleges. Rigorous academics and an internationally diverse student body create an environment that prepares women to meet the challenges of our increasingly complex world.

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Mary Jo Curtis | Newswise Science News
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