ENGINEERING NEWS

Rondinelli Honored with Presidential Early Career Award

He is recognized for his contributions in computational condensed matter physics and novel materials design approaches

Northwestern Engineering’s James Rondinelli, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, has been awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). President Barack Obama announced the recipients of the prestigious honor on Thursday, February 18.

The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. A total of 105 researchers across the country are being honored.

Elad Harel, assistant professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, also received the award. Both professors will be invited to the White House this spring to meet President Obama and attend an awards ceremony.

James Rondinelli“It’s a great honor to receive such recognition at this stage of my scientific career, where I’ve focused on creating new knowledge and training a new generation of scientists and engineers to solve 21st-century problems,” Rondinelli said. “The award is particularly gratifying because it recognizes the importance of fundamental theoretical and computational science research to the nation’s priorities.”

Rondinelli is recognized for his seminal research contributions in computational condensed matter physics and novel materials design approaches. He has transformed the scientific community’s approach to designing materials using broken inversion symmetry at interfaces and provided the first-ever methodology for predicting the relationship between strain and octahedral rotations in complex oxides, paving the way for the design of many-body quantum properties in ways previously not considered possible. 

“These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness,” President Obama said. “We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people.”

Rondinelli’s passion is to manipulate materials at their fundamental electronic level, pushing electrons to do new things in materials and to realize new functionalities — by designing materials atom by atom. His work focuses on the theory, design and applications of complex ternary/quaternary metal oxide and fluoride ceramics, including crystals and thin films, for low-power electronics, high-temperature applications, non-linear optical and oxidation-resistant systems and devices.

Rondinelli formulates novel theories to address contradictory property-performance challenges by employing “first principles” approaches based on quantum mechanical calculations and computational science tools, including data informatics. By understanding the material physics and chemistry of known compounds, Rondinelli is able to predict the behavior of yet-to-be-synthesized materials, accelerating the discovery of new structurally and chemically complex compounds.

The PECASE award will enable Rondinelli to apply his expertise in engineering physical phenomena with interfaces to devise multifunctional materials that exhibit antithetical behavior — high conductivity and broken inversion symmetry — which present an opportunity to deeply impact technology.

“The fundamental work in this program will allow us to move this emerging class of materials forward as a platform for the next generation of logic, memory and security devices,” Rondinelli said.