January 21, 2021
Rising star: A UCF physicist lands a coveted federal ‘early career' grant

Michael Chini will study the potential for using short, intense laser bursts to form or break atomic bonds within a molecule.

Energy Updates in Florida

Rising star: A UCF physicist lands a coveted federal ‘early career' grant

Jason Garcia | 9/25/2018

If young scientists were ranked like young quarterbacks, Michael Chini would be a top prospect.

Chini, 33, earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Canada’s McGill University in 2007 and then a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Central Florida five years later. Now he’s an assistant professor in UCF’s physics department who has started down the tenure track.

Chini is an attophysicist, which means he studies electrons that are moving so fast they must be measured in attoseconds — one-billionth of one billionth of one second.

Two years ago, the U.S. Air Force awarded Chini a research grant worth more than $450,000 through its Young Investigator Program, which is designed to support early career scientists and engineers who show promise. This summer, he was one of 54 university researchers around the nation awarded U.S. Department of Energy grants through the agency’s Office of Science Early Career Research Program.

With the grant — $150,000 a year for the next five years — Chini will study the potential for using short, intense laser bursts to form or break atomic bonds within a molecule. The goal is to develop enough control over these ultra-fast reactions to be able to capture and harness that energy for other uses.

“The better we get at understanding something, and the better we can predict what will happen, then the better we can optimize the processes or we can control the outcomes,” says Chini.

This is the ninth year for the Department of Energy’s Early Career Research Program, which is designed to support researchers at a time when they are doing their most formative research. To be eligible, researchers must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professor at a U.S. academic institution or a full-time employee at a DOE national laboratory and have earned a Ph.D. within the past 10 years. The research topics must fall into one of six categories: Advanced scientific computing research; biological and environmental research; basic energy sciences; fusion energy sciences; high energy physics; or nuclear physics.

Chini is one of three researchers from Florida identified through the Early Career Program this year. Assel Aitkaliyeva, an assistant professor in the University of Florida’s nuclear engineering program, and Rachel Yohay, an assistant professor in Florida State University’s physics department, also landed five-year, $750,000 grants.

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