Obama Names Aidala a Top Young Scientist

President Barack Obama has named Assistant Professor of Physics Katherine Aidala one of the nation’s most promising young scientists. Aidala is one of 94 researchers who will receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE)--the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their careers--in a Washington, D.C., ceremony.

Each year, 16 federal departments and agencies nominate individuals whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for “assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions.” Aidala was nominated by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“I'm excited and honored to be receiving this recognition from the White House,” Aidala said. “It's particularly satisfying that the citation is for not only my research, but also my efforts to educate and increase the participation of women in science and engineering. “

At Mount Holyoke, Aidala and her students study a variety of nanoscale systems in the Scanning Probe Microscopy Laboratory. The microscope allows Aidala’s team to conduct research on the atomic and molecular levels. For a better understanding of the diminutive size of nanoscale systems, consider that one inch equals 25.4 million nanometers. The applications for this research, Aidala said, can benefit a variety of fields, including cell biology and device physics.

“Thinking about interacting with matter on the nanoscale fascinates me,” she said. “The scanning probe microscope lets us ‘look’ at where charges are and where current flows, watch how tiny magnets change their state, and measure how bacteria sticks to surfaces. Understanding some of these fundamental properties may let us build better solar cells, energy efficient lighting, and data storage devices.”

This is the second time that Aidala has been honored on the national level; in 2010, she was awarded the NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award. Aidala joined the Mount Holyoke faculty in 2006, after receiving her B.S. from Yale University and both her M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard.

Aidala is Mount Holyoke’s second PECASE recipient. She joins Becky Wai-Ling Packard, professor of psychology and education and codirector of the Harriet L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts, who received the award in 2005.