The Department of Energy has awarded UCF physicist and assistant professor Li Fang a career grant of $785,000.

The award is part of the DOE’s Office of Science’s Early Career Research Program, which recognizes researchers for their promising work, early on in their careers. This year, only 76 awards were made to scientists at private and public institutions nationwide and Fang was the only Florida winner.

“Supporting talented researchers early in their career is key to fostering scientific creativity and ingenuity within the national research community,” says DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar. “Dedicating resources to these focused projects led by well-deserved investigators helps maintain and grow America’s scientific skill set for generations to come.”

To be eligible for the DOE award, a researcher must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant, associate professor at a U.S. academic institution, or a full-time employee at a DOE national laboratory, who received a Ph.D. within the past 10 years. Research topics are required to fall within one of the DOE Office of Science’s six major program offices. Fang’s work falls into atomic, molecular, and optical sciences part of the DOE Basic Energy Sciences program.

Li Fang

“I’m thrilled,” Fang says.I was attracted to UCF because of its national reputation in my field of study and this award will help me contribute to this work. UCF is a good place to thrive.”

Her grant project focuses on studying how electrons interact with each other at miniscule scales, which can only be seen with specialized equipment. The goal is to learn how the electrons interact and eventually how to control them. This could prove valuable in understanding the energy flow within the smallest constituent unit of ordinary matter, discovering new methods to store and move energy, and for controlling chemical reactions. The grant will cover her salary and research expenses over five years.

Fang joined UCF in 2019 from Ohio State University and runs the recently created Ultrafast Atomic and Plasma Physics Research Group. She is part of a team of experts at UCF that focus on atomic, molecular and optical physics. The group is well known for its work in attosecond physics —the study of phenomena that takes place within the time it takes for electrons to go around the atom’s nucleus. At one-quintillionth of a second, an attosecond is hard to imagine. In 53 attoseconds, light travels less than one-thousandth of the diameter of a human hair.

Fang has multiple degrees including a doctorate in physics from the University of Connecticut. She has written or co-authored dozens of journal papers and presented at local and national conferences.

“I am extremely happy and proud, but not surprised, with Dr. Fang’s success,” says Eduardo Mucciolo, chair of UCF’s physics department. “It was clear from the first time we met that she is an outstanding junior scientist with very competitive research plans. Funding agencies are now learning that too. She has been a great addition to the UCF attosecond science team, which now counts with three DOE Early Career Award recipients. We are clearly becoming leaders in this area.”