PECASE

Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators: President Obama Honors the Nation’s Cutting-Edge Scientists and Engineers

A group of leading researchers—including EPA’s own Dr. Tom Purucker—we were honored today at the White House as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

The following is reposted from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

A group of leading researchers were honored today at the White House as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), which is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

After receiving their awards in a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Agriculture with agency officials, friends, and relatives—a ceremony keynoted by OSTP Director John Holdren—the group of 102 ambitious scientists and engineers were greeted at the White House by President Obama who thanked them for their outstanding achievements.

President Barack Obama talks with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) recipients in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Official White House Photo)

President Barack Obama talks with the PECASE recipients in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The PECASE recipients are employed or funded by the following departments and agencies: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Intelligence Community, which join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions.

PECASE awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. The winners represent outstanding examples of American creativity across a diverse span of issues—from adding to our understanding of the most potent contributors to climate change to unlocking secrets to some of the most pressing medical challenges of our time to mentoring students and conducting academic outreach to increase minority representation in science fields.

For example, Derek Paley, Willis H. Young Jr. Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering Education at the University of Maryland, is studying how fish use sensory organs to perceive their environment in order to build an artificial sensing and control system that will allow underwater vehicles to navigate autonomously.

Or consider PECASE winner Dr. Young Shin Kim, an associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine, who is being awarded for studying the role of environmental risks and gene-environmental interaction in increasing Autism Spectrum Disorder prevalence.

Other winners include Dr. Lucy E. Cohan with the Central Intelligence Agency, who is advancing the design and modeling of the next generation of space telescopes by employing lightweight, active mirror technologies, or Dr. Gavin Peter Hayes with the U.S. Geological Survey, whose research is helping to transform our understanding of earthquake processes and advance real-time response activities when major earthquakes occur.

This is just a snapshot of this group’s incredible accomplishments. Other PECASE recipients are studying black holes in space, using robots to advance student engagement in science, and examining the brain processes behind language and literacy acquisition. Regardless of their area of research, all have demonstrated remarkable success in the lab. Their achievements are paving the way for exciting and important advances and inspiring the next generation of researchers, makers, and innovators. The full list of PECASE awardees can be found here.

With this much progress at this early stage of their careers, we can expect even greater things from these leading lights in the years to come.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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President Obama Honors Outstanding Early-Career EPA Scientist

Modified from White House, Office of the Press Secretary release

President Obama addressing past PECASE winners.

President Obama addressing past winners of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.

President Obama today named EPA’s Dr. Steven Thomas Purucker one of 102 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.  The winners will receive their awards at a Washington, DC, ceremony in the coming year.

“The impressive achievements of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead,” President Obama said. “We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America’s global leadership for many years to come.”

The Presidential Early Career Awards embody the high priority the Obama Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the Nation’s goals, tackle grand challenges, and contribute to the American economy. The recipients are employed or funded by the following departments and agencies: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Intelligence Community, which join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions.

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.

To learn more, and see a list of all the winners, please see the White House announcement.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

By: Christina Motilall

When I close my eyes and picture the Rocky Mountains one word always comes to mind: Majestic.

That is why it troubles me to know this beautiful landscape (like many around the world) is threatened by air pollution. This pollution can not only harm the environment—it can harm those who live in it. That is why the work of Adam Eisele is crucial.

An environmental engineer for EPA’s Region 8 (Mountains and Plains), Adam researches sources of air toxics and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the area. VOCs are organic compounds (chemical compounds with molecules that contain carbon) that are both natural and man-made. They can affect anything from your eyes to your kidneys, in your home and out of it.

Adam says, “I chose to study air toxics and VOCs because the more I learned about this stuff, the more I realized how dangerous it was to us at certain concentrations.”

Adam Eisele (center) accepting the PECASE award, with EPA Science Advisor Dr. Glenn Paulson (left) and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dr. John Holdren (right).

Doing work in Bolivia and then Colorado, Adam paints answers with a broad scientific brush, analyzing how these pollutants work at low and high elevations and what effect that may have on human health. Adam explains, “Altitude certainly has an effect on air toxics, causing pollutants to behave a bit differently than we typically see at or near sea level… This all leads to complicated air quality management.  I helped design air monitoring strategies using scarce resources to protect the public by tracking and trending air quality.”

I believe the members of the public that will benefit from Adam’s research and community engagement are far-reaching because not just one type of community is at risk from VOCs and air toxics. Adam said, “It’s tough to ‘see’ air pollution a lot of the time, so I do what I can to make something that’s invisible and potentially harmful visible to the communities that may be affected by it.”

And he is a doing a great job at it. So great that he was one of two EPA scientists recently awarded the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) by President Barack Obama. “Shaking President Obama’s hand, I mentioned I work for EPA, to which he replied ‘Keep up the good work.’ It was pretty incredible.”

I agree with the President. Keep up the good work, Adam; it seems there ain’t no mountain high enough to keep you from protecting human health and the environment.

About the author: Christina Motilall is an intern for the Office of Research and Development’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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You Don’t Need Oz to Give You a Healthy Heart

By Christina Motilall

When the Tin Man went to the Wizard of Oz to get a heart, I am sure he assumed it was a healthy one. But as we all know, hearts are tricky things, affected by any number of stressors—including, EPA scientists are starting to learn, pollutants.

Everything from what we eat to what we breathe influences our heart in some way. That is why the research of EPA’s Dr. Mehdi Hazari analyzing air pollution effects on cardiovascular health is so important.

By researching and developing new methods to assess cardiopulmonary effects of air pollution, Dr. Hazari is working to ensure that we understand all of the cardiovascular effects our air may have on us. Dr. Hazari calls the effects he is studying ‘latent effects’—ones we cannot see the symptoms of right away, but can lead to subsequent adverse responses triggered down the road.

Dr. Hazari stated that his research has “demonstrated that two health-compromised groups might be more susceptible than healthy individuals: those with hypertension and those with heart disease.” It seems these days we all know someone struggling with heart-related problems, and Dr. Hazari’s research is working to understand what long-term role air pollution may play in this.

The big difference between Dr. Hazari’s research and others I have heard of is that he is not necessarily examining air pollution (specifically ground-level ozone and particulate matter) as a toxicant, but rather as a stressor. “Even though we are sometimes faced with these stressors on a daily basis, our bodies compensate for the insult and continue functioning normally. But have we considered the long-term implications? Because as the effects of these stressors accumulate in the body over time, our ability to compensate decreases and we run the risk of something adverse happening,” Dr. Hazari explains.

And the big picture of Dr. Hazari’s work also means he gets a picture with the President. That’s right. This week he was one of two EPA scientists named as recipients of the 2011 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Next week, Dr. Hazari gets to travel to Washington, DC to meet the Commander-in-Chief and accept this prestigious award for innovative and internationally-recognized research. When asked how he felt about meeting the President, Dr. Hazari stated “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a total honor!”

Along with President Obama, I value Dr. Hazari’s future-focused research illuminating risks to protect the heart health of myself and my loved ones. And you know what? I bet if the Tin Man were here, he would wholeheartedly agree.

About the author: Christina Motilall is an intern for the Office of Research and Development’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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