Jozef Dudek, an assistant professor of physics at Old Dominion University who is also affiliated with the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, has won an Early Career Research award of $750,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to support his work in theoretical nuclear physics.
The young researcher, who joined ODU five years ago after receiving his doctoral degree in physics from the University of Oxford in England and serving as a postdoctoral research fellow at Jefferson Lab, is among 69 scientists to receive 2011 grants from the Early Career Research Program. The program was launched last year.
Dudek uses calculations performed on supercomputers to predict the properties of subatomic particles called mesons, which are short-lived pairings of quarks and antiquarks. (Quarks and the gluons that bind them are the building blocks of the protons and neutrons that form the atomic nucleus.)
Determining the meson spectrum with unprecedented precision and using novel production methods is one part of the planned Jefferson Lab experimental program to be explored after the energy of the facility's continuous electron beam is doubled to 12 billion electron volts (GeV). The upgrade, which is under way, is projected for completion in mid-2014, when data-taking can begin.
"Professor Dudek's work is of particular relevance to understanding the new data we will get with the upgraded beam energy at Jefferson Lab," said Gail Dodge, who stepped down this week as chair of the ODU Department of Physics after a six-year term and will now turn her focus to teaching and to her own nuclear physics research at Jefferson Lab.
Dodge said Dudek's research "is very innovative and is already having an impact on our understanding of the quark and gluon structure of matter."
Chris Platsoucas, dean of the College of Sciences, added, "Professor Dudek is highly deserving of this prestigious award. Early-career awards such as this one are given only to researchers whose work shows great promise. Here we have more evidence of the exceptional quality of the theoretical nuclear physics research at ODU."
To be eligible for an Early Career award from DOE, a researcher must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant professor at an academic institution in the United States or a full-time employee at a DOE national laboratory, and must have received a Ph.D. within the past 10 years. This year, 1,150 scientists applied.
"It's always encouraging to have your work recognized as important, and this funding award is ideally timed to support our research efforts in preparation for the 12 GeV upgrade," Dudek said.
He came to ODU because of the quality of the theory group in physics and the opportunity to work at Jefferson Lab, he added. Other members of the ODU Theoretical Nuclear and Particle Physics Group include professors Anatoly Radyushkin, Rocco Schiavilla, Jay Wallace Van Orden and Ian Balitsky, all of whom have been elected Fellows of the American Physical Society.
The $750,000 in DOE support for Dudek will come between mid-2011 and mid-2016 and will allow him, among other things, to hire a postgraduate research assistant, and to support graduate students.
His research hinges on the fundamental theory of quark and gluon dynamics that is called quantum chromodynamics (QCD). At the low energy scales relevant for mesons, the theory has resisted a "pen and paper" mathematical solution, while on the other hand, a numerical approach known as Lattice QCD has proven to be a useful tool to solve the theory using controlled approximations. Over the next few years, building upon recent work done in collaboration with researchers at Jefferson Lab and others, Dudek will use Lattice QCD techniques to predict the masses and quantum numbers of mesons, their internal quark-gluon structure, their decay into other mesons and their couplings to photons.
"A major emphasis will be predicting properties of hybrid mesons, which are proposed exotic particles in which the usual quark-antiquark pair is accompanied by an excitation of the gluon field that binds them," Dudek said. "This project will pre-empt and complement a planned search for hybrid mesons by the Gluonic Excitations Experiment (GlueX) at Jefferson Lab. In the run up to GlueX we hope to make a number of predictions that will be experimentally tested there - it's a particularly exciting time to be doing these calculations."
A Jefferson Lab scientist, Pavel Evtushenko, also received an award from the DOE Early Career Research Program to support his work with the lab's Free Electron Laser.
"To win these prestigious awards speaks highly of the outstanding work done by Pavel and Jozef and to their future contributions," said Hugh Montgomery, the director of Jefferson Lab. "All of us at the lab are extremely proud of these two young scientists, and we look forward to sharing in the discoveries they may make."