Chao-Chin Yang, Zhaohuan Zhu and Stephen Lepp (all Physics and Astronomy) just were awarded a $456,315 research grant by NASA through the Emerging Worlds Program. They will investigate one of the most difficult stages in the course of planet formation, for example, how kilometer-scale planetesimals can be built from pebble-sized materials around a young star before a planet can be fully assembled. By conducting state-of-the-art computer simulations and comparing the results with the properties of the Kuiper Belt objects observed in our own solar system, they will be able to test the leading theory of planetesimal formation at unprecedentedly high resolutions. The investigation will further improve our understanding of the origins of the solar system as well as the thousands of the extrasolar planetary systems. Zhu and Lepp are co-investigators on the project.