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UTA’s David Nygren receives Marie Sklodowska-Curie award

Thursday, September 7, 2017

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David Nygren, Presidential Distinguished Professor of Physics at The University of Texas at Arlington and a member of the National Academy of Sciences

David Nygren, Presidential Distinguished Professor of Physics at The University of Texas at Arlington and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, has been honored with a prestigious international award for his pioneering work in radiation detector developments and for enabling major discoveries in diverse areas of science.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or IEEE has named Nygren the winner of the 2018 Marie Sklodowska Curie Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the field of nuclear and plasma sciences and engineering. The award is sponsored by the IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society. Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences.

“I am extremely honored to be recognized with the Marie Sklodowska Curie Award by the IEEE, a very prestigious worldwide professional organization,” Nygren said. “Madame Curie is a hero in physics and to the world for her pioneering discoveries of radioactive elements and their properties. I am equally humbled to be recognized as contributing a small part to her legacy, in the pursuit of deeply fundamental knowledge.”

Nygren invented a new particle detection concept, the Time Projection Chamber, in 1974 to enable accurate and complete capture of extremely complex high-energy particles collisions. Such collisions can lead to the production of hundreds or even thousands of new particles. The Time Projection Chamber has been used worldwide for more than four decades in particle detection and discovery, ranging from relativistic heavy ion collisions to the search for Dark Matter and extremely rare nuclear decays.

“This award is a wonderful and very well-deserved honor for Dr. Nygren in recognition for his groundbreaking work in particle detection, which has opened the door to discovery in many areas,” College of Science Dean Morteza Khaledi said. “His distinguished record of achievement is a credit to our college and the University, and his work is a perfect example of the kind of impactful research to which all of us in the College of Science aspire.”

Nygren received a B.A. in Mathematics-Physics from Whitman College in 1960 and earned his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Washington in 1967. He was a postdoctoral research associate at Nevis Laboratories at Columbia University and became an assistant professor of physics at Columbia in 1969. He moved to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory near Berkeley, Calif., in 1973 as a Division Fellow, then as a Senior Physicist and later as Distinguished Scientist until August 2014, when he joined the UTA Department of Physics.

“I know that this is a very great honor and one that is both richly deserved and highly appropriate in light of the importance and lasting impact of Dr. Nygren’s contributions to the field,” said Alex Weiss, professor and chair of the UTA Department of Physics. “I also know that I speak for all of my colleagues in saying how happy we are for David and how proud we are to have him here at UTA and as a member of our department.”

The Marie Sklodowska Curie Award is the latest of numerous awards and accolades Nygren has received over the course of his illustrious career. In 2015 he was honored as one of two recipients of the American Physical Society’s inaugural Division of Particles and Fields Instrumentation Award for his widespread and lifelong contributions in the field of particle physics. The award specifically recognized Nygren’s work which has led to the development by many physicists and engineers of the extremely large volume liquid argon Time Projection Chambers that are now a key element in the global particle physics program. The award will be presented at the 2018 IEEE Nuclear Science and Medical Imaging Symposium in Sydney, Australia in November 2018.

Among the many other distinguished awards Nygren has received are the Aldo Menzione Prize in 2015, the Berkeley Lab Prize - Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, the W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics from the APS in 1998, and the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award from the U.S. Department of Energy in 1985. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2000.

He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and has served on the executive committee for the APS Division of Particles and Fields, as well as several other distinguished scientific panels and committees.

Marie Sklodowska Curie was a pioneer in the field of radioactivity, a word that she coined. She and her husband, Pierre Curie, discovered the elements radium and polonium in 1898. She won the Nobel Prize in Physics with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel in 1903 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911. In 1906 she became the first woman to be named a professor at the University of Paris.