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Jim Guidry Commentaries
Melconian Honored with DOE Research Award
Thursday, May 26, 2011
– Dr. Dan Melconian, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Texas A&M University, has been recognized with a 2011 United States Department of Energy Early Career Research Award for his achievements and future potential in nuclear physics research.
Melconian, a member of Texas A&M’s world-renowned Cyclotron Institute whose research focuses on the fundamental symmetries of nature and weak interactions among nuclei, is one of 67 early career scientists nationwide and the only one from Texas selected to receive funding under the DOE’s Early Career Research Program. Funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the program is designed to strengthen the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the early years of their careers — a critical stage with great impact on a scientist’s later, more formative work.
Eligible researchers must be untenured, tenure-track assistant professors at U.S. academic institutions or full-time employees at DOE national laboratories with a Ph.D. earned within the past 10 years. Their research topics also must fall within the scope of the Department’s Office of Science’s six major program offices: advanced scientific computing research; basic energy sciences; biological and environmental research; fusion energy sciences; high-energy physics or nuclear physics.
Melconian was awarded a total of $750,000 over five years by the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Physics for his proposal “Fundamental Electroweak Interaction Studies Using Trapped Atoms and Ions.” His proposal was selected from a pool of about 1,150 university and national laboratory-based applicants through peer review by outside scientific experts.
“It is a huge honor to have the importance of my work recognized through this generous and prestigious award,” Melconian said. “I am very excited knowing what a positive impact this Early Career Award will have on my research program.”
As a graduate student at Simon Fraser University, Melconian conducted research at TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics located in Vancouver, en route to earning his Ph.D. in nuclear physics in 2005. He then spent nearly three years as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington’s Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics prior to joining the Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy faculty in 2008.
Melconian’s DOE proposal outlines a two-pronged research program — one based on atom-trapping and the other on ion-trapping techniques — that will probe properties of the weak interaction. The atom-trap experiments will be based at TRIUMF, where he has proven the ability to perform very precise beta-decay experiments on highly polarized atoms that are only a few thousandths of a degree above absolute zero. He will use his grant funding to develop novel and elegant techniques — most notably construction of a unique Penning trap capable of confining short-lived ions — to perform complementary beta-decay experiments that also will test our understanding of the basic particles and forces that make up the universe. The ion-trap work will take advantage of soon-to-be-completed upgrades at the Texas A&M Cyclotron Institute that will enhance its existing capacity for rare beams.
“Accepting the position at Texas A&M and the Cyclotron Institute is one of the wisest decisions of my academic career,” Melconian said. “I am surrounded by giants in nuclear physics who are happy to share their vast experience and knowledge with me. I am part of a strong department that is only getting stronger as well as an institute that is completing an upgrade which will make it possible to do world-class experiments right here on campus. Surely the DOE recognized these additional resources available to me when considering my proposal. My colleagues and the infrastructure at Texas A&M made it easy for me to convince them my research program will succeed.”
As a DOE university facility jointly supported by the State of Texas, the Cyclotron Institute is a major technical and educational resource for Texas A&M as well as the state and nation. The institute provides the primary infrastructure for graduate programs in nuclear chemistry and nuclear physics. Programs focus on conducting basic research, educating students in accelerator-based science and technology and providing technical capabilities for application in space science, materials science, analytical procedures and nuclear medicine and a variety of related research areas and industries.
For more information on the U.S. Department of Energy Early Career Research Program and a complete list of current award winners and their abstracts, visit
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