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Physicist Wins National Science Foundation Award

Joshua Smith Awarded $450,000 Grant for Early Career Research, Teaching

March 19, 2013

After more than a decade of gravitational-wave research, physicist Joshua Smith just received a nearly half million dollar vote of confidence from the National Science Foundation.
 
Smith, assistant professor of physics, is the recipient of a $450,000 National Science Foundation Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award — the highest NSF honor for early career research and teaching.
 
Smith was awarded the funding for research on the detection of gravitational waves.
 
To date, Smith's gravitational-wave research has been awarded $1.5 million in grant funding. 
 
“I feel very fortunate. It’s a very competitive award that wouldn’t be possible without the support of the college and my department,” said Smith, a CSUF faculty member since January 2010.
 
The CAREER Program award is the most prestigious award made by the National Science Foundation for early career faculty members who exemplify the integration of research and education.
 
Smith’s award will support an integrated research and education program to advance the detection of gravitational waves with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, known as LIGO. Two LIGO detector sites, one in Hanford, Wash., and the other in Livingston, La., were built with NSF funds to capture gravitational waves for scientific research.
 
“We’re on the brink of new discovery. This award will help train the next generation of leaders in this field, and will support and extend my research,” said Smith, who is a member of the global gravitational-wave research effort known as the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and chairs its LIGO detector characterization group.

Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves in his theory of general relativity, published in 1916, explained Smith.
 
“Now, nearly a century after Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves in 1916, we are poised to directly detect these waves for the first time and to observe the universe in an entirely new spectrum,” said Smith, adding that scientists across the globe are working on this effort. “We can learn a lot about the exotic things in the universe by detecting these waves.”
 
In the meantime, Smith and his students are working to improve the quality of data to advance gravitational-wave research. 
 
The new project also will establish a transfer pathway for local community college physics and astronomy students to connect them with the research team through the University's Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy Center, which opened last September under Smith's direction.
 
“These projects provide increased opportunities for students to participate in cutting-edge research at Cal State Fullerton,” he said. “The education and outreach components of this award will engage students, many from groups currently underrepresented in physics and astronomy, in the discovery-ready field of gravitational-wave science.”
 
Smith, who earned his doctorate in 2006 from the University of Hannover, Germany, where he studied gravitational physics, followed by postdoctoral research at Syracuse University, is the third Cal State Fullerton faculty member to receive the award; Kiran George, assistant professor of computer engineering, received it in 2012, and Barbara L. Gonzalez, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, in 2002.

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

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