Zhaohuan Zhu, assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy, has been named a 2017 Sloan Research Fellow. He is one of 126 researchers from 60 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada – and the first UNLV scientist – to be awarded the prestigious fellowship.
Awarded annually since 1955 by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the fellowships honor early-career scholars whose achievements mark them as the next generation of scientific leaders.
Zhu’s research focuses on the origin of Earth and other planets. By using powerful supercomputers and sophisticated numerical codes, he simulates how Earth formed billions of years ago. These computer simulations can be compared with the latest observations of young forming stars and planets to reveal the secrets of how planets are born around young stars.
“The Sloan Research Fellows are the rising stars of the academic community,” said Paul L. Joskow, President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Through their achievements and ambition, these young scholars are transforming their fields and opening up entirely new research horizons. We are proud to support them at this crucial stage of their careers.”
Zhu received his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and was a postdoctoral researcher and Hubble Fellow at Princeton University before coming to UNLV last summer.
He was attracted to UNLV by its Top Tier initiative as well as the brilliant minds in the physics and astronomy department. “The research environment here is extremely active and stimulating,” Zhu said. “Additionally, my research expertise fits well in the department, and I can collaborate with almost every faculty member in the astronomy program. Another factor that attracted me here is the powerful supercomputer at the UNLV National Supercomputing Institute. My research relies on computing resources, and not every university has such powerful computers.”
The most interesting thing about the field, Zhu said, is that only recently have telescopes finally allowed researchers to image young forming planets in distant stellar systems. “The field progresses so fast and exciting new discoveries are made all the time, which I couldn’t imagine as a graduate student. Seeing planet formation in action is like seeing the birth of our Earth billions of years ago.”
Fellows receive $60,000 to further their research. The award is open to scholars in eight scientific and technical fields—chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics. Candidates must be nominated by their fellow scientists and winning fellows are selected by independent panels of senior scholars on the basis of each candidate’s independent research accomplishments, creativity, and potential to become a leader in his or her field.
“I am extremely honored to receive the Sloan Fellowship,” Zhu said. “I hope that this award will attract great students and scientists to our department and UNLV. With the support of the fellowship, I am looking forward to a productive future.”
Past Sloan Research Fellows include many towering scientific figures, including physicists Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann, and game theorist John Nash. Forty-three former fellows have received a Nobel Prize in their respective field, 16 have won the Fields Medal in mathematics, 69 have received the National Medal of Science, and 16 have won the John Bates Clark Medal in economics, including every winner since 2007.