Caltech Announces Eight Recipients of the 2024 National Brown Investigator Award

Each investigator, recognized for curiosity-driven research in chemistry or physics, will receive up to $2 million over five years

The Brown Institute for Basic Sciences at Caltech today announced the 2024 class of Brown Investigators. The cohort, the first selected through the newly formed Brown Institute for Basic Sciences, comprises eight distinguished mid-career faculty working on fundamental challenges in the physical sciences, particularly those with potential long-term practical applications in chemistry and physics. Each investigator will receive up to $2 million over five years.

The Brown Institute for basic Sciences at Caltech was established in 2023 through a $400-million gift to the Institute from entrepreneur, philanthropist, and alumnus Ross M. Brown (BS ’56, MS ’57).

Caltech and Brown share a common purpose: advancing fundamental science discoveries with the potential to seed breakthroughs that benefit society.

"My hope is the support provided by the Brown Investigator Awards will help to spark and encourage the researchers’ creativity and enable them to pursue riskier innovative ideas that extend beyond their existing research efforts and align with new or developing passions," Brown says. "By supporting mid-career faculty, we can provide funding at a time when they are poised and prepared to make profound contributions to their fields."

The 2024 investigators are:

James Analytis, Charles Kittel Chair in Condensed Matter Physics, UC Berkeley , to develop new methods using focused ion beams to change the chemical composition of two-dimensional materials with nanometer resolution, potentially giving rise to new electronic states, including superconductivity.

Gordana Dukovic, professor of chemistry, University of Colorado Boulder , to develop methods for chemical structure determination of biomolecules bound to inorganic nanoparticles-materials that could be useful for the conversion of solar energy directly into new chemical bonds.

Robert Knowles, professor of chemistry, Princeton University , whose research will explore a novel hypothesis for the evolution of homochirality-the presence in nature of only one of two mirror-image forms of biomolecules.

Nuh Gedik, Donner Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology , to develop a new kind of microscopy that images electrons photo-emitted from a surface while also measuring their energy and momentum.

Kerri A. Pratt , professor of chemistry, earth and environmental sciences, and program in applied physics, University of Michigan , for research to discover the chemical compounds and chemical mechanisms that define the composition of the atmosphere with a focus on the Arctic, which is warming faster than elsewhere on Earth.

Wei Xiong, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and Kent Wilson Faculty Scholar, UC San Diego , for research on chemical reaction dynamics in the presence of light concentrated by nanophotonic structures.

Norman Yao, professor of physics, Harvard University , to develop a way to use a thin layer of microscopic sensors embedded into the surface of a diamond anvil to image the microscopic behavior of materials at high pressure.

Andrea Young, professor of physics, UC Santa Barbara , who will use novel fabrication techniques to make new kinds of qubits, the quantum computing analog of classical bits, in two-dimensional materials that will maintain quantum coherence for much longer times.

Brown established the Investigator Awards in 2020 through the Brown Science Foundation, in support of the belief that "scientific discovery is a driving force in the improvement of the human condition," according to its news release from the Science Philanthropy Alliance, which helped guide Brown in realizing his philanthropic vision. Caltech’s David Hsieh, Donald A. Glaser Professor of Physics and executive officer for physics, was among two inaugural recipients of the award.

A total of 13 investigators were recognized in the first three years of the program. Now that the Brown Investigator Award has found a long-term home at Caltech, the intent is to recognize a minimum of eight investigators each year.

Other previous awardees include Columbia’s University’s Tanya Zelevinsky, who studies spectroscopy of cold molecules for fundamental physics; Princeton University’s Waseem Bakr, who works with ultracold quantum gases to realize scalable architectures for quantum computation; and Stanford’s Hemamala Karunadasa, whose research targets materials such as sorbents for capturing environmental pollutants and absorbers for solar cells.

Brown Investigators from all cohorts are invited to an annual meeting that offers opportunities to share ideas. The inaugural annual meeting was held at Caltech earlier this year.

For the 2024 class, a select number of research universities from across the country were invited to nominate faculty members who had earned tenure within the last 10 years and who are doing innovative fundamental research in the physical sciences. Nominees were then evaluated by an independent scientific review board that recommended grant winners.

"We share Ross’s commitment to fundamental research in the physical sciences, and we welcome the opportunity to help support talented colleagues around the country who have reached a critical juncture in their academic careers," says Caltech Provost David Tirrell, Carl and Shirley Larson Provostial Chair and Ross McCollum-William H. Corcoran Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

In administering the program, Caltech refrains from nominating its own scientists for Brown Investigator Awards. In return, the Institute draws other funds from the Brown gift to support fundamental research in chemistry and physics.

Related Links

Caltech to Administer National Investigator Awards Program for Recently Tenured Faculty in the Physical Sciences with $400 Million Gift from Ross M. Brown