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Brian Wirth
Brian Wirth

The US Department of Energy has named Brian Wirth, a joint UT College of Engineering and Oak Ridge National Laboratory appointee, an Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award winner for 2014.

Given by the DOE in recognition of research supporting science, energy, or national security, it is considered the highest achievement that a midcareer researcher can receive. Established in 1959, the award honors Ernest Orlando Lawrence, a 1939 Nobel laureate and inventor of the cyclotron—an accelerator of subatomic particles.

Wirth, the UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Computational Nuclear Engineering, has spent his career studying aspects of nuclear environments and materials related to nuclear energy.

“This is a tremendous honor, one I feel very humbled to receive,” said Wirth. “More than that, though, it feels like this recognizes the scientific and technical contributions of the many people with whom I have had the good fortune to work.”

Wirth said Lawrence’s work served to inspire him early in his career. In addition to shared research interests, they both grew up in similar areas—Wirth in Montana, Lawrence in South Dakota. Wirth even began his career in the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.

Wirth and his research group are striving to produce the safest nuclear energy possible while extending the life of the components and the reactor itself, describing their work as being at the intersection of nuclear energy, materials science, and high-performance computing.

“We primarily model, utilizing the high-end computing capabilities at ORNL. But we also have to do detailed materials characterization there to see how materials interact with one another in a nuclear environment at incredibly small scales,” said Wirth.

He noted that UT and ORNL are increasingly becoming go-to centers for nuclear studies, materials research, and computing—the three critical areas his group studies and upon which they rely.

“ORNL joins UT in congratulating Brian on this well-deserved honor,” said ORNL Director Thom Mason. “His accomplishments in computational modeling, nuclear technology, and materials science illustrate the importance of crosscutting research to the nation’s energy mission.”

Wirth said the partnership has led to the perfect situation, not just for his group or the institutions, but for researchers and students alike, giving them an interdisciplinary environment where collaboration between the two is a “world-class educational opportunity.”

“This is the ideal place for me and my research interests,” said Wirth. “I have said on many occasions that I believe that the Governor’s Chair is the best faculty position in the country, if not the world.

“I am pleased that this award will bring additional recognition to our nuclear engineering department at UT as well as to the partnership with ORNL.”

Including Wirth, there were nine Lawrence Award recipients this year. The others and their areas of research are:

  • Mei Bai, Brookhaven National Laboratory—nuclear physics
  • Carolyn R. Bertozzi, University of California, Berkeley—atomic, molecular, and chemical sciences
  • Pavel Bochev, Sandia National Laboratory—computer, information, and knowledge sciences
  • Eric E. Dors, Los Alamos National Laboratory—national security and nonproliferation
  • Christopher L. Fryer, Los Alamos National Laboratory—fusion and plasma sciences
  • David J. Schlegel, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—high-energy physics
  • Peidong Yang, University of California, Berkeley—condensed matter and materials sciences
  • Jizhong Zhou, University of Oklahoma—biological and environmental sciences

“These researchers, now at midcareer, have made significant contributions to the national, economic, and energy security of the United States,” said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “I congratulate the winners, thank them for their work on behalf of the department and the nation, and look forward to their continued excellent achievement.”

The nine will each receive a medal and $20,000 honorarium at a ceremony in Washington, DC, later this year in recognition of their achievements.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683,