Two GW Researchers Receive Prestigious Presidential Award

Chunlei Liang and Volker J. Sorger received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

July 8, 2019

PECASE winners Chunlei Liang, left, and Volker J. Sorger. (Photos: Jessica McConnell Burt / Volker J. Sorger)

SEAS professors Chunlei Liang (l) and Volker J. Sorger received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

President Trump has named two George Washington University professors winners of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE): Chunlei Liang, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Volker J. Sorger, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. 

“It’s overwhelming and a true honor, and it underlines the STEM momentum of GW,” Dr. Sorger said.

Dr. Liang said he is “very grateful and very humbled to have been recognized by my colleagues.”

According to the White House, the PECASE is “the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.” Federal agencies can nominate potential winners, who eventually are selected by the president and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Dr. Liang’s research on the fluid dynamics shaping the top third of the sun’s radius is an important part of developing software that predicts “space weather”: solar winds, flares and other astronomical phenomena. In a few decades, Dr. Liang said, such models might be as dependable as current models for predicting weather on Earth—useful because unpredictable space weather can interfere with the operation of spacecraft and satellites. He received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2016 and a Young Investigator Program (YIP) Award from the Office of Naval Research in 2014. Three of his Ph.D. students associated with the CAREER Award have received their doctorates from GW and are currently working as computational engineers in the United States. The NSF also nominated Dr. Liang for PECASE.

“This PECASE award recognizes hard work for the past nine years that has been done not only by me but by my team,” Dr. Liang said. “I hope this award can help us generate larger impact in the community, especially because we plan to release this as open source software.” 

Dr. Sorger is the leader of GW’s Integrated Nanophotonics Lab, where he researches and develops photonic integrated devices and systems such as minimalized lasers, modulators and detectors. His research spans from emerging materials to developing circuits and systems for faster and more efficient information processing. Dr. Sorger’s latest research develops photonic and optical neural networks for machine learning and cyber security applications, including a recent innovation that allows machines to extract data from photographs or electronic signals much faster than is possible with current systems.  

Dr. Sorger is a winner of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Best Annual Paper Award and received a YIP award in 2014, in his case from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFSOR). He also is editor-in-chief of the journal Nanophotonics. The Department of Defense nominated him for the PECASE.

“Receiving an award such as this one is about scholarly novelties and celebrating successful teamwork,” Dr. Sorger said. “It includes my students, colleagues and also facilities here at GW. For example, I heavily rely on the Nanofabrication and Imaging Center in the Science and Engineering Hall. So I’m pleased to see the joint research and development enterprise we have been fostering coming to fruition.”