10 researchers receive Argonne Postdoctoral Performance Awards

Postdoc Award Group Image

Postdoctoral Performance Award recipients with deputy laboratory director for science and technology Sean Jones (far left) and laboratory director Paul Kearns (far right). (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

ALCF’s Riccardo Balin was among the group of early-career scientists recognized for making significant contributions to their fields.

10 postdoctoral researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory were recently recognized at the laboratory’s 2023 Postdoctoral Performance Awards, which were presented in a ceremony on Nov. 9.

The awards were established by Argonne to recognize postdoctoral researchers who have made significant contributions to their research field, shown ingenuity in problem solving, demonstrated collaborative and leadership ability, made a significant impact on Argonne and DOE missions, and demonstrated Argonne’s core values through their work.

The achievements of these early-career researchers in basic research, engineering research and applied research support our mission to accelerate science that drives U.S. prosperity and security,” said Argonne Director Paul Kearns. ​The recipients of these awards all share a collaborative spirit, an ability to creatively solve problems facing society, and remarkable dedication and perseverance.”

Postdoctoral Performance Award for Basic Research

Five postdoctoral researchers received the Postdoctoral Performance Award in Basic Research for fundamental, theoretical and discovery science that seeks understanding of systems and the creation of new knowledge. They are:

Amanda Carr, Chemical Sciences and Engineering division

Amanda Carr is a Walter Massey Fellow in the Chemical Sciences and Engineering division of Argonne, where she studies electrochemical separations of f-elements. Carr has made significant contributions and impact in her research area centered on heavy-metal uptake on graphene-based materials, within the context of chemical separations. She received her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Stony Brook University in 2020, during which she characterized colloidal films using a novel X-ray scattering method.

Carr also examined graphene-polymer laminates with both visible and infrared reflection adsorption spectroscopy, the latter of which netted her a nomination for the Physical Electronics Conference’s Nottingham Prize. She finished as a finalist in 2020. In 2021, the Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter named Carr an Emerging Leader defined by the editorial board as one of ​the most talented and exciting researchers in their generation.”

Carr has received multiple outstanding presentation awards from both Argonne and Brookhaven National Laboratory, as well as a Graduate Assistance in Area of National Need Fellowship from the DOE during her Ph.D. work.

Xinhao Li, Nanoscience and Technology division

Xinhao Li is a postdoctoral researcher in Argonne’s Nanoscience and Technology division, developing quantum bits (qubits) based on single electrons on solid neon. He joined Argonne in 2021 after obtaining his Ph.D. from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, where he focused on exploring optical and photonic materials and devices for sustainability and information science.

Li’s team improved the coherence time of the electron-on-neon (eNe) charge qubits by nearly three orders of magnitude, to the 100-microsecond level, and demonstrated its scalability to connect to more qubits, showing eNe as a promising solid-state qubit candidate. Li is now focusing on scaling up eNe qubits with superconducting resonators and understanding how they decohere.

Bryce Fore, Physics division

Bryce Fore is a postdoctoral researcher in the Theory Group of Argonne’s Physics division studying neural network representations of dense nuclear matter. He received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Washington in Seattle.

Fore’s main research focus is on using neural networks to represent wavefunctions — or mathematical representations of quantum states — in a computational physics method called variational Monte Carlo calculation. Specifically, Fore’s work focuses on calculations involving nuclei and neutron stars. This technique, called neural network quantum states, is relatively new and rapidly expanding the areas where the variational Monte Carlo method can be used.

In particular, Fore has both improved the structure of neural networks used to represent wavefunctions in nuclear matter and expanded the technique to calculations of neutron star matter.

Fore has also made notable contributions in other areas of nuclear and condensed matter physics, with discoveries on several projects.

Riccardo Balin, Argonne Leadership Computing Facility

Riccardo Balin is a postdoctoral researcher in the data science team at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, a DOE Office of Science user facility. He obtained a Ph.D. in Computational Fluid Dynamics and Turbulence Modeling in 2020 from the University of Colorado Boulder. He joined Argonne in 2021 as a postdoctoral researcher under Argonne’s Aurora Early Science Program, supporting a project aiming to perform in-situ scientific machine learning from exascale simulations of turbulent flows.

Balin’s primary research interests are turbulence modeling of complex aerodynamic flows, scientific machine learning (ML) for closure and surrogate modeling, and the coupling of traditional simulations with ML creating workflows for in-situ training and inference. He is also interested in scalable deep learning, as well as data science and workflow software for high performance computing.

Balin is developing and implementing a self-consistent simulation and offline learning infrastructure, which can be applied to traditional computational fluid dynamics simulation, accelerated by an AI model. The model is trained on previously performed or simultaneously produced computations or experimental data.

Balin has also developed unique software that can be used in conjunction with 3D simulations of turbulence where the generated in-situ data is of the order of terabytes. The anticipated two orders of magnitude beyond this on Argonne’s upcoming exascale supercomputer, Aurora, will be world leading.

Venkata Surya Chaitanya Kolluru, Nanoscience and Technology division

Chaitanya Kolluru is a postdoctoral researcher in the Argonne’s Nanoscience and Technology division. He completed his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Florida in 2021. His research focuses on the combination of theory, characterization, and new methods and software tools. Kolluru uses atomistic simulation methods and ML to support experiments.

Kolluru has made major contributions to the development of new computational capabilities that allow researchers to determine the 3D atomic structure of materials from microscopy and scattering data. For example, Kolluru’s research led to the reporting of the structure of a brand-new phase of a material.

Postdoctoral Performance Award for Applied and Engineering Research

Five postdoctoral researchers received awards for their work seeking solutions to problems through the development of new materials and methods, creating and designing solutions to real-world problems, implementing process improvements, and improving final products. They are:

Kevin Hickey, Environmental Science division

Kevin Hickey joined Argonne’s Environmental Science division in 2022 as a postdoctoral researcher studying computational chemistry techniques to model the fate and effects of polymers and plastics in the environment. He received his Ph.D. in Environmental Health Engineering from the University of Delaware in 2021.

Hickey’s research looks at the accumulation of plastics in the environment, which is a global problem which has led to a significant push toward the design and development of more environmentally benign polymer materials. To ensure the success of these efforts, Hickey pursued models capable of predicting environmental fate and effects on properties from molecular structure early in the design phase. Hickey’s research seeks to utilize quantum chemistry and machine learning techniques to model the mobility, bioaccumulation, persistence and toxicity of polymers and plastics in the environment for the purpose of developing screening tools to inform polymer development.

Hickey’s research helped inform the design of alternative plastics by making it possible for Argonne’s DOE-sponsored responsible innovation project to incorporate, for the first time, predictions of polymer properties based on first principles that correlate with environmental degradation.

Michael Counihan, Materials Science division

Michael Counihan joined Argonne’s Materials Science division in 2021 as a postdoctoral researcher after completing his Ph.D. in Materials Chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that year. As an electrochemist, Counihan uses his fundamental chemical knowledge to help solve applied challenges and advance next-generation green energy storage. Since joining Argonne, he has authored 10 journal publications covering half a dozen different research topics and presented original research at six different national and international conferences. His dedication to developing environmentally responsible battery materials is demonstrated in his 2022 laboratory-directed research and development project on low-cost, water-recyclable salts for metal-ion batteries. His work demonstrated decreases of 12% manufacturing cost and 25% fluorine content along with faster charging rates when using Argonne-developed compounds in lithium polymer electrolytes.

Counihan’s research on optimizing interfaces in solid-state lithium metal batteries using polymer and composite electrolytes is funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. His work involves modifying the fundamental chemistries of electrolyte materials and the electrode-electrolyte interface to enable fast charging for electric vehicle applications, with the goal of utilizing low-cost and safe materials for manufacturing at scale.

Michael Dziekan, Applied Materials division

Michael Dziekan, a postdoctoral researcher in the emergent materials and processes group in Argonne’s Applied Materials division, worked with staff scientists to help develop a new environmentally friendly rare-earth magnet recycling process that will provide a source of rare-earth metals for use in domestically produced rare earth magnets. He completed his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University in 2022.

Rare-earth permanent magnets, such as neodymium-iron-boron magnets (NdFeB), are critical components of clean energy technologies such as high-capacity wind turbines and electric vehicles with around 200,000 tons produced annually. Current recycling practices involve shipping magnets overseas where recyclers undertake a complicated multi-step and expensive process. This research demonstrates a novel electrorefining process to selectively extract the rare earth metal alloy from bulk NdFeB magnets in a single step, saving time and cost, while the entire process occurs domestically.

Dziekan designed an electrorefining cell, approximated the rare earth metal extraction level within the magnet and proposed a new molten salt electrolyte composition to increase electrorefining process efficiency. Dziekan also helped improve Argonne’s safety processes by taking the initiative to implement a particular kind of safety sensor in a first-of-its-kind lithium pilot plating line, which will alert the operators if there is an unsafe environmental condition.

Aikaterini (Katerina) Vriza, Nanoscience and Technology division

Katerina Vriza joined Argonne’s Nanoscience and Technology division in 2022 after receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Liverpool that year.

Vriza’s research revolves around leveraging artificial intelligence to address fundamental challenges within the realm of materials science. Central to her work is the ambition to develop an autonomous research laboratory, where ML seamlessly interfaces with lab automation, pioneering a new era in sustainable science innovation.

One of Vriza’s major accomplishments is the development of automated data extraction tools that systematically gleans relevant information from the scientific literature, fueling the creation of an extensive polymer database crucial for training an ML model to identify new materials. This database was seamlessly integrated into a robotic workflow, effectively marrying ML insights with a self-driven laboratory.

Rajesh Pathak, Applied Materials division

Rajesh Pathak is a postdoctoral appointee in the functional coatings group in Argonne’s Applied Materials division. Pathak received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from South Dakota State University in 2020. His Ph.D. research focused on developing an artificial solid electrolyte interphase between lithium metal and liquid/solid electrolytes to improve battery performance.

Pathak plays an essential role in applying atomic layer deposition to improve the electrochemical performance of energy storage devices. In particular, he has focused on developing interfacial layers to protect the anode and cathode of lithium batteries from deleterious reactions with the electrolyte. Pathak has also developed vapor phase methods to remove residual lithium compounds from lithium battery electrodes — a technology that will reduce manufacturing costs while improving battery performance.