Academics & Faculty

UCLA geophysicist receives government’s highest honor for young scientists, engineers

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Yuri Shprits, a research geophysicist with UCLA’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences and the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, was honored today by President Obama with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) — the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers.
 
Shprits’ PECASE citation praises him for "early-career leadership and innovative research and modeling in the realm of the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts." He is among 96 scientists and engineers in the nation to receive a 2012 PECASE.
 
"Discoveries in science and technology not only strengthen our economy, they inspire us as a people," Obama said. "The impressive accomplishments of today’s awardees so early in their careers promise even greater advances in the years ahead."
 
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 White House said in today’s announcement.
 
Shprits, who has been conducting research at UCLA since 2002, studies electron transport and acceleration and loss in the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts and has developed large numerical codes to model the electrons in these belts. The Van Allen radiation belts are two donut-shaped regions surrounding the Earth that contain high-energy particles trapped by the planet’s magnetic field. These particles can be harmful for satellites and humans in space. His research will help satellites guard against hazards and also help with the design of future satellite missions.
 
Shprits has shown that while ultra-low frequency (ULF) waves can transport and accelerate electrons inside the radiation belts, they cannot explain increases in the "MeV electron flux" observed by satellites during geomagnetic storms.
 
Shprits has also been one of the first to apply data assimilation techniques — which are widely used in navigation, atmospheric and ocean sciences and other fields — to model the radiation belts. He has used data assimilation to confirm that wave-particle interactions are critical for understanding radiation belt dynamics. Shprits’ research provides results that will be tested by a NASA mission — known as RBSP — to be launched later this year and a joint mission between UCLA and Moscow State University, Lomonosov, to be launched in 2013. Shprits is the principal investigator of the Lomonosov radiation belt investigation.
 
Shprits has been a mentor to very successful graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and researchers who have conducted research under his supervision. He is co-author of approximately 60 scientific papers. His research received more than 380 citations last year.
 
Eleven federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring U.S. preeminence in science and engineering and advancing the nation’s goals. The recipients are invited to a ceremony in Washington, D.C., next week where with John P. Holdren, advisor to the president for science and technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, will present the awards. NASA funds Shprits’ research.
 
UCLAis California’s largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university’s 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.
 
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