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JILA, CIRES, NOAA researchers honored with 2018 Governor’s Awards

Published: 08-23-2018

The team of Drs. Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn were one of three winners of CO-LABS' 2018 Governor’s Awards for High-Impact Research

This article is reprinted from CU Boulder Today

Two teams affiliated with CU Boulder have been recognized for their impact on the state of Colorado through research on tabletop lasers and the role of consumer products in air pollution.  

CO-LABS announced this week that Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn of JILA were one of three winners of its prestigious Governor’s Awards for High-Impact Research. Brian McDonald of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) also led a team that earned an honorable mention in this year’s awards. CO-LABS is a consortium of Colorado-based federal research laboratories, research universities, state and local governments, economic development organizations, private businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement that this year’s award winners “highlight the diversity and impact of the science and technology coming out of Colorado's research labs that make our state and the world a better place.”

“We’re thrilled that researchers from CU Boulder and several of our affiliated research institutes–CIRES and JILA–are receiving this honor,” said Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation Terri Fiez. “We believe that collaboration is key to achieving maximum impact, so it is fitting that these collaborations between the university and NOAA and NIST are being recognized for the impact they are having in Colorado and beyond.”

Ultrafast lasers

Murnane, Kapteyn and their colleagues from JILA, a joint-institute of CU Boulder and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), earned a nod for their years of efforts to wrangle X-ray light.

The group debuted the world’s first tabletop X-ray laser in 2007. Today, these devices can shoot out pulses of radiation at a millionth of a billionth of a second—fast enough for scientists to image molecules in the act of forming and breaking chemical bonds. In addition to peering at the workings of atoms, such lasers may also enable new types of semiconductors and medical technologies like CT scans. 

To commercialize their inventions, Murnane and Kapteyn launched the company KMLabs in the 1990s. The husband and wife team also help to lead the STROBE National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center. Among other activities, STROBE supports undergraduate students at six universities, including CU Boulder, to “advance imaging science and technology and build the microscopes of the future.”

“The quantum technologies and microscopes that the STROBE team and our group are developing are allowing us to understand how advanced materials work—the materials that will be used for next-generation energy-efficient and lightweight nanotechnologies,” said Murnane and Kapteyn, both professors in the Department of Physics. “We are also passionate about growing high tech employment opportunities in Colorado.”

Fresh air

McDonald, a CIRES scientist working at the Chemical Sciences Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), pioneered research on a commodity important to Coloradans: the air they breathe.

CO-Labs honored the scientist and his colleagues for their 2018 study that examined the contribution of household cleaners and other consumer and industrial products to air pollution. The group’s findings, published in the journal Science, showed that these petroleum-based products now rival car exhaust as a source of some harmful pollutants in cities across the United States.

"I am honored that our team is being recognized for our research on consumer product emissions," said McDonald. "We hope our research will help bring an awareness that our everyday activities add up, from driving our cars to applying deodorants and shampoos in the morning, and can impact the air we breathe. The scientists at CIRES and NOAA are strongly committed to communicating our science to the public for protecting our environment and human welfare."

Now in its tenth year, the Governor’s Awards event brings together scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs, business leaders and government officials to celebrate exceptional work.

This year’s honorees will be formally recognized and celebrated on Thursday, October 4, 2018 from 5-9 p.m. at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in Denver, Colorado. Tickets and registration details are available at www.2018GovAwards.com.

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