Winners of 2023 FRIB Achievement Award for Early Career Researchers named

14 July 2023

Winners of 2023 FRIB Achievement Award for Early Career Researchers named

The FRIB Users Organization Executive Committee and the FRIB Theory Alliance Executive Board have announced the winners of the 2023 FRIB Achievement Award for Early Career Researchers. Katharina Domnanich, assistant professor of chemistry at FRIB and in the MSU Department of Chemistry, is the recipient of the 2023 experimental award. Kyle Godbey, research assistant professor at FRIB, is the recipient of the 2023 theory award.

The selection committee stated:

Dr. Katharina Domnanich’s research focuses on Isotope Harvesting at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. Dr. Domnanich made critical contributions to isotope harvesting techniques and technologies that will enable research into new therapies for cancer treatment, direct measurements of nuclear reactions on short-lived nuclei important for nuclear astrophysics, and multi-user capabilities at FRIB. Additionally, her work on the radiolysis of the water in the FRIB beam dump will enable safe high-power operations, which will benefit the entire user community. Dr. Domnanich’s impressive scientific leadership was noted by all of the committee members.

Dr. Kyle Godbey’s research is on the dynamics of heavy nuclei, with an emphasis on fission and reactions, particularly fusion and quasifission. His work to relate these processes to nuclear structure makes his connection with FRIB science particularly strong. It also places him at the center of the community-wide effort to quantify the uncertainty in predictions of nuclear observables. Only three years from his PhD, he is already the first author of seven papers (and a part of 13 more), four of which have received more than 20 citations. In addition, he has published a useful online book on quantum computing, advises four students at MSU, and is the lead organizer of this year’s FRIB Theory Alliance Summer School, on uncertainty quantification and emulator development. Though it did not affect our decision making, this influential scientific service supplements Kyle Godbey’s first-rate research in a way that makes him a worthy recipient of the 2023 FRIB Achievement Award for Early Career Researchers.

Katharina Domnanich

Domnanich’s research focuses on isotope harvesting, a new area of opportunity for researchers. During routine operation for its nuclear physics mission—without interfering with FRIB’s primary users—extra, unused isotopes can be “harvested” using additional tools and infrastructure. These by-product radionuclides are of immense value to society and science. The collection of these exotic radionuclides from the cooling-water loop became known as “isotope harvesting,” and it was successfully tested at FRIB’s predecessor facility, the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory. To extend the spectrum of pure radioisotopes that are accessible via isotope harvesting, Domnanich said scientists envision using mass separation. In particular, her focus will be directed toward radioisotopes, which are of interest for scientific applications, like neutron cross-section studies or nuclear medicine.

Domnanich said that in recent years, the increasing demand for non-standard radionuclides in the U.S. is outstripping supply capabilities. These radionuclides are indispensable for a broad range of applied and fundamental nuclear science applications, including nuclear medicine, stockpile stewardship, and fundamental physics. She said the collection from FRIB’s aqueous cooling-water stream represents a novel source that can develop into an important asset to meet our growing isotope demands.

“FRIB is a world-leading facility for research with the rarest isotopes and provides an unparalleled opportunity to study and collaborate with experts in nuclear physics and chemistry,” she said. “The isotope harvesting and mass-separation capabilities are one-of-a-kind setups that will contribute to pushing the limits of current knowledge.”

Domnanich earned a bachelor’s degree in medicinal chemistry and pharmaceutical sciences from the Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland, a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Vienna in Austria, and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Bern in Switzerland.

Kyle Godbey

Godbey’s research explores nuclear physics through the use of microscopic models. Godbey’s primary focus is investigating the dynamics of heavy nuclei and how they play a role in phenomena at scales spanning from nuclear reactions to neutron stars. This work sits at the intersection of nuclear theory, computational statistics, and high-performance computing and places a strong emphasis on open science principles and accessibility. In addition to his work in nuclear physics, he is also involved in a number of complementary efforts to develop tools and techniques in computing and statistics.

While he has many open lines of research, Godbey said he is excited about his work in heavy-ion fusion and fission. Atomic nuclei are incredibly complex, self-bound quantum systems. If scientists exploit the state-of-the-art in predictive theories, he said, they can learn a lot about their properties by studying how they behave in time. Godbey said he likes to study reactions between heavy-nuclei at the edge of stability, and he said he suspects that there's going to be very interesting physics to uncover as scientists start to probe deeper into the as-of-yet unknown regions of the nuclear landscape that FRIB will open up.

“Both FRIB's scientific users and the frequent visitors that come by each year are such a wellspring of inspiration and a source of many of the high-impact projects that I've been involved with thus far,” he said. “I'd like to highlight the participants and students that attend the various workshops and summer schools in particular—they are always so excited to collaborate and get involved with FRIB science, and I frequently hear that these sorts of programs convince a lot of people to continue in this field of physics. The incredible rates of exotic nuclei will have a more direct impact on my day-to-day physics studies, primarily because the data that I need to better inform my theoretical models simply cannot be obtained anywhere else. Every facet of my research program in nuclear structure and reactions will be greatly elevated by the experimental research being done at FRIB and the broader campus community also contribute a great deal in the areas of high performance computing, applied mathematics, and statistics.”

Godbey earned a bachelor’s degree in physics with a minor in computer science from Berea College and a master’s degree and PhD (both in physics) from Vanderbilt University.

The FRIB Achievement Award for Early Career Researchers recognizes outstanding original contributions to the field of nuclear physics through work at or relating to FRIB, performed by scientists early in their careers.

The recipients will present their work during the plenary session at the annual Low Energy Community Meeting and receive a stipend to support their participation.

Michigan State University (MSU) operates FRIB as a user facility for the Office of Nuclear Physics in the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. Hosting what is designed to be 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 Isotope R&D and Production Program (DOE Isotope Program) supports isotope harvesting at FRIB. MSU operates FRIB as a user facility for the Office of Nuclear Physics in the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, supporting the mission of the DOE-SC Office of Nuclear Physics.

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