Three faculty members at Northwestern University were awarded Sloan Research Fellowships for support and recognition for their past work, and future potential in various STEM fields. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded Bao Le Hung, a mathematician, Raffaella Margutti, an astrophysicist, and Jonathan Rivnay, a biomedical engineer, $70,000 fellowships over two years to each faculty member.

Sloan Research Fellowship recipients must first be nominated by their peers and are then chosen by a panel of senior scholars.

“Sloan Research Fellows are the best young scientists working today,” said Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Sloan Fellows stand out for their creativity, for their hard work, for the importance of the issues they tackle, and the energy and innovation with which they tackle them. To be a Sloan Fellow is to be in the vanguard of 21st-century science.”

Professor Bao Le Hung: Mathematics

Professor Bao Le Hung researches the Langlands program, which tries to bridge the three different mathematical topics: number theory, the study of numbers, algebraic geometry, the study of solving algebraic equations, and representation theory, the study of reducing abstract algebra into linear algebra. It connects the fields so that problems can be looked at from other viewpoints that allow them to be solved more easily.

“Such a connection is really useful because it allows you to translate difficult problems from one area to the other, where they may become more amenable,” Professor Hung said, citing Fermat’s Last Theorem, as an example. Fermat’s Last Theorem is the conjecture that there are no positive integers a, b, c that satisfy the equation an+bn=cn, first posed in 1637, and proved in 1995, leading to the development of the topic of number theory.

“My interest in this topic is due to my fascination with the interactions between fields of mathematics that are seemingly very far apart. That such phenomena happens hints at the unity of mathematics, that our division of it into specialized areas is somehow artificial.”

“I feel very honored about being a recipient. It also motivates me to work harder,” Professor Hung said.

Professor Raffaella Margutti: Physics

As an assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the Weinberg College, Margutti  is also a member of the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) at Northwestern. She researches violent events in the universe, such as superluminous stellar explosions, supermassive black holes and neutron star mergers.

“With my team, we study stellar explosions, stars that end their lives with big explosions. We study stars that get disrupted by supermassive black holes when they get just too close, and are eaten up. We study gravitational wave sources, basically violent phenomena in the universe that cause something to appear one night and disappear after a while. So I would say I study astronomical transients.”

Professor Margutti said she would like to continue her research with the support from the Fellowship.

“No matter what time of the day or night or what time of the year it is, the universe doesn’t care, and we have to go into action. It’s a very active field, and right now, it’s one of the frontiers of discovery in astrophysics, and that’s because in the first time in human history, we can actively map the sky every night. We do something very simple — looking for differences. It’s how we find how the sky changes from one night to another.”

Professor Jonathan Rivnay: Chemistry

As someone who has been studying organic electric materials for a while, Professor Rivnay was initially interested in more traditional applications, such as large area displays that are used in OLED television screens and other displays. However, he transitioned to integrations with biological systems, which combines electronics with applications in the =body, which is what he researches now.

“My group studies organic bioelectronics, materials and devices. These materials have these unique properties that allow you to kind of bridge the gap between the world of biology, like tissue and cells, and more traditional optoelectronic devices. By taking advantage of the unique materials properties, we can improve the coupling between these two really disparate worlds.”

“It was a great honor to hear about it. Such recognition can validate that we’re working on some exciting directions, and will allow for us to try out some new ideas.”