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In a time when more advancements in science and technology are being made than ever before, recognizing the best and brightest stars among us becomes imperative. To that end, the Maryland Science Center and the Maryland Academy of Scientists have selected and announced the winners of the 2017 Outstanding Young Scientist and Outstanding Young Engineer Awards.
The OYS and OYE awards are open to nominees ages 35 and under for scientists and engineers in academia or those who are aged 40 and younger from other fields of practice. This year, two individuals were recognized in each category. The Outstanding Young Scientist award was established in 1959, while the Outstanding Young Engineer Award was first given in 1988. Winners are chosen by members of the Maryland Academy of Sciences’ Scientific Advisory Council for their merits in the field. The awards were presented on November 15 at the Maryland Science Center.
In a statement, Stephen Schenkel, chair of the council, said: “Our 2017 recipients come from such a variety of fields, [which] demonstrates just how many opportunities there are for young people to made our world a better place through science and engineering.”
The two winners of the Outstanding Young Scientist award were Kimberly Stroka, Ph.D., of the Fischell Department of Bioengineering at University of Maryland College Park and Phillip Graff, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Dr. Stroka, an assistant professor who directs the Cell and Microenvironment Engineering Lab (known around campus as the “Stroka Lab”) was recognized for discovering a new mechanism for tumor cell migration. This new mechanism holds potential for new tumor treatment targets. Dr. Graff, who works on cybersecurity for the U.S. armed forces and national computer networks, was a lead developer for an important algorithm at the Laser Interferometry Gravitational Wave Observatory. This algorithm played a key role in detecting the merging of two black holes, thus confirming Einstein’s prediction.
Lee Blaney, Ph.D., from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Adam Watkins, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory were the two winners of the Outstanding Young Engineers award this year. Although an engineer’s salary can vary widely, ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 a year, there’s no doubt that these two winners have established themselves as rising stars in the sector. Dr. Blaney, a professor of Chemical, Biochemical, and Environmental Engineering, is currently developing a type of technology that can recover nutrients (such as phosphorus) from the chicken manure found on poultry farms. While phosphorus can be a pollutant, like in bodies of water like the Chesapeake Bay, it’s extremely useful to farmers who need to fertilize their crops.
Each year, about 16,000 chemical spills occur from trucks, trains, and storage tanks, which can threaten local water sources. In Maryland, agricultural runoff has become a serious problem affecting the Chesapeake Bay, and so Dr. Blaney’s research is especially relevant to local communities.
Dr. Watkins has achieved success in his work on autonomous vehicle technology. He developed a system to generate maps of Weapons of Mass Destruction storage locations in rapid time. Dr. Watkins also lead the research pertaining to the utilization of unmanned, self-driving boats for Navy ship protection.
Mark Potter, President and CEO of the Maryland Science Center, noted at the awards ceremony, “The accomplishment of our 2017 honorees are impressive. These four professionals are great examples of why Maryland is a hub of discovery and exploration, and they are great role models for today’s STEM students.”