Research News

Sloan Foundation awards Vanderbilt physicist for ‘exceptional promise’

An assistant professor of physics at Vanderbilt University has won a $45,000 research fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation aimed at encouraging promising young scholars.

Julia A. Velkovska is one of 118 researchers in physics, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, neuroscience and economics chosen at the early stages of their careers because of their “exceptional promise to contribute to the advancement of knowledge.” The grant money may be used to pursue any research that interests the recipient.

“This flexibility is often of great value to young scientists who are at a pivotal stage in establishing their own independent research projects,” said a Sloan official.

Velkovska’s research centers on the study of nuclear matter at the extreme temperatures and energy densities created by the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a major scientific facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. The RHIC collides gold atoms at nearly the speed of light to explore what the universe may have looked like in the first few moments after its creation.

Velkovska made a significant contribution to the scientific analysis that led the RHIC team to announce the discovery of a new state of matter, called the quark gluon plasma, in 2005. This is the state in which scientists think the universe existed a few microseconds after its creation in the Big Bang. In particular, she led the discovery of an unexpected enhancement in the numbers of protons, anti-protons and other similar particles called baryons created in the quark gluon plasma.

In the last two years, Velkovska has concentrated her efforts on the design and construction of a novel type of detection system at RHIC that will do a better job of recording the production of excess baryons. In 2004 she received a Department of Energy Outstanding Junior Investigator award for the proposal to build this detector, which has just been completed.

Velkovska will use her grant to help support her research at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research located in Switzerland. CERN is just completing work on the world’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider that will probe more deeply into matter. Velkovska and the other members of the Vanderbilt RHIC team have joined one of the LHC experiments designed to advance the RHIC research.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit institution based in New York, was established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan, Jr., then president and chief executive officer of the General Motors Corporation.

More than 4,000 young researchers have received Sloan Research Fellowships since the program’s inception in 1955. Hundreds have gone on to earn prestigious awards and honors, including 32 Nobel prizes.

Media Contact: David F. Salisbury, (615) 343-6803