SSGF Alumnus Recognized as Outstanding Early-Career Scientist

Ames, Iowa
Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Research on high-pressure, high-temperature materials has earned a high honor for an alumnus of the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship.

Miguel Morales, a staff scientist in the Condensed Matter and Materials Division at DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is one of the newest recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

The awards, presented by President Barack Obama through the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, are considered the U.S. government’s highest honor for science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

PECASE winners are chosen for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach, a White House release says. The recipients will be honored in Washington, D.C., later this year.

Morales, a DOE NNSA SSGF recipient from 2006 to 2009, develops and runs computer models of how materials at high pressures and temperatures behave, based on the fundamental laws of physics. Computer codes Morales and his colleagues develop, such as QMCPACK, calculate the electronic structures of atoms, including the strange effects of quantum physics. The models demand so much computer power that supercomputers can simulate only a few thousand electrons at best.

Morales’ research has delved into the properties of hydrogen and helium under extreme conditions like those found on gas giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn. Besides shedding light on planetary physics, Morales’ simulations will help improve computer models weapons scientists rely on to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear stockpile without live tests.

Morales earned a double bachelor’s degree of science in theoretical physics and mathematics with a specialization in computer science from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez in 2004. He earned his doctoral in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he worked under the supervision of David Ceperley on quantum Monte Carlo (QMC) methods applied to systems at high pressure. In 2009 he was a postdoctoral researcher in the Rice University chemistry department under the supervision of Dr. Gustavo Scuseria. Morales joined Lawrence Livermore Lab in 2010.

Each year, federal science agencies nominate scientists and engineers for the PECASE awards, choosing those whose early accomplishments demonstrate the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the agencies’ missions. President Bill Clinton established the program in 1996.

The Krell Institute of Ames, Iowa, administers the Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship for the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration. The fellowship provides excellent financial benefits and professional development opportunities to students pursuing a Ph.D. in fields of study that solve complex science and engineering problems critical to stewardship science.