Members of FRIB user community named 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellows

Three members of the FRIB user community have been named 2021 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): Michael Annan Lisa, Filomena Nunes, and James Vary.

AAAS is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society. It was founded in 1848 and has members in more than 91 countries. AAAS’s stated mission is to "advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people."

Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. This year, 564 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

Michael Lisa

Lisa is a professor of physics at Ohio State University.

Lisa was elected for “his development of azimuthally sensitive femtoscopy for relativistic heavy-ion collisions and his discovery, via global polarization measurements, of the unprecedented vorticity of quark-gluon plasma created in such collisions.”

Lisa studies the “quark-gluon plasma,” a unique state of matter created when very heavy nuclei (like gold) are collided at 99.9997-percent the speed of light at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory. At these energies, nuclei—and even the protons and neutrons that make them up—melt into a soup of quarks, the fundamental particles that comprise the proton.  This system lives for the briefest moment—about a billionth of a trillionth of a second—after which it undergoes a cataclysmic explosion into thousands of subatomic particles. These particles are captured in building-sized detectors built and operated by Lisa and his colleagues. Lisa has discovered subtle patterns that become visible when sifting through the detritus of billions of collisions; these patterns reveal the size, shape, orientation, and lifetime of the quark-gluon plasma, the smallest and shortest-lived bulk system ever created.  More recently, he discovered a different pattern that reveals “vorticity”—a swirling substructure of the plasma.  In fact, his measurements prove that the quark-gluon plasma is by far the most vortical fluid ever observed. These detailed measurements at the smallest conceivable scale are shedding light on the strong interaction—the strongest and least-well-understood of the fundamental forces in nature.

“I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to make an impactful contribution to science, and I am honored to be recognized as an AAAS Fellow,” said Lisa. “This contribution was made possible by the superb scientific training I received at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory/Michigan State University as a graduate student.”

Filomena Nunes

Nunes is a professor of physics at FRIB and in Michigan State University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. She is also the managing director of the FRIB Theory Alliance.

Nunes was elected for “distinguished leadership, teaching, mentoring, and community service within and beyond nuclear physics; a model-setting faculty member who sets a high bar of excellence for herself, her students, and colleagues.”

Nunes does research on low-energy nuclear reaction theory and uncertainty quantification. She plans to continue to work with the U.S. Department of Energy and the nuclear community to grow the efforts of the FRIB Theory Alliance and ensure its success. The FRIB Theory Alliance is a coalition of scientists from universities and national laboratories who seek to foster advancements in theory related to diverse areas of FRIB science; optimize the coupling between theory and experiment; and stimulate the field by creating permanent theory positions across the country, attracting young talent through the national FRIB Theory Fellow Program, fostering interdisciplinary collaborations, and shepherding international initiatives.

“This year is the start of operations at FRIB, which is a huge source of excitement in itself. But, on top of that, having been recognized by AAAS,” said Nunes. “AAAS has been doing such important work for science as a whole, particularly during these trying times. Clearly, it’s an honor to be named a fellow.”

Nunes said FRIB will be able to provide much more data for exotic nuclei. She said she is excited with the prospect of working with the experimentalist to design optimal experiments to further the understanding of interactions and the reactions mechanisms as nuclei collide.

“What I am most excited about FRIB are those things that will be discovered and that I cannot yet foresee,” said Nunes. “FRIB will probably open completely new avenues for my research.”

Read the full MSU Today article featuring MSU winners, including Nunes.

James Vary

Vary is a professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University. Vary was elected for “distinguished contributions to our understanding of nuclear and hadronic structure, creating new computational frameworks for the many-body problem, and for fostering international collaboration in science.”

Vary works with Iowa State, national, and international collaborators to explore the heart of matter itself—the nucleus of the atom—using our knowledge of the fundamental forces of nature. He uses supercomputers to simulate the theoretical properties of the nucleus and compares the results with experiments. His research confirms and sometimes rejects features of the fundamental laws as far as they are known today. In addition, his results sometimes uncover novel phenomena in nature such as his prediction of a state of four neutrons that has possibly been seen in one experiment and is awaiting confirmation in additional experiments.

"Concerning FRIB science I would say that I am most excited by the prospects for FRIB experiments to probe the limits of our understanding of the internucleon forces and emergent nuclear phenomena,” said Vary. “There are many new regimes such as these where theory and FRIB experiments can combine to test and refine our knowledge of the strong interactions.”

Michigan State University operates FRIB as a user facility for the Office of Nuclear Physics in the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. Hosting the most powerful heavy-ion accelerator, FRIB will enable scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes in order to better understand the physics of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, fundamental interactions, and applications for society, including in medicine, homeland security, and industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of today’s most pressing challenges. For more information, visit