Announcing the 2022 HEMI Seed Grant Awardees

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2022 HEMI Seed Grants: Prof. Yayuan Liu, Dr. Chao He, and Prof. Dimitris Giovanis!

Liu is an an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and an associate faculty member in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Her accepted proposal is titled “Designing Vascularized Porous Electrodes with Enhanced Ion Transport for Battery Extreme Fast Charging.”

He is an associate research scientist in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. His accepted proposal is titled “Spectral signature of prebiotic molecules in Titan’s surface materials.”

Giovanis is an assistant research professor in the Department of Civil and Systems Engineering and Fellow within HEMI. His accepted proposal is titled “Data Driven Uncertainty Quantification for Energetic Materials.”

Each HEMI Seed Grant awards $25,000 to each recipient for the effective award period of September 1, 2022 to August 31, 2023. They are given each year to fund research in fundamental science associated with materials and structures under extreme conditions. All faculty and researchers at the Johns Hopkins University, as well as Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) staff, who can serve as Principal and Co-Investigators are eligible to apply. Learn more about the program here.

HEMI Fellow Sarah Hörst receives 2022 President’s Frontier Award

In a surprise virtual presentation, JHU President Ron Daniels presented the award to Alexis Battle, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Sarah Hörst, HEMI Fellow and an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Both researchers will receive $250,000 to pursue new lines of research, expand their laboratories, or support their lab members.

“Let me take this moment to say how dazzled we were, Alexis and Sarah, by the ambitions and scope of your research and how highly your colleagues, mentors, and students regard each of you,” said Daniels in the virtual presentation. “Having a way to honor those qualities in our faculty was a reason why we created this amazing award eight years ago. … You both join a cadre of truly remarkable people from across all our divisions whose work truly stands apart.”

The President’s Frontier Award was originally launched with a commitment of $2.5 million from trustee Louis J. Forster, A&S ’82, SAIS ’83, and is now paired with a $1 million donation from alumnus David Smilow, A&S ’84. Winners have spanned the university’s divisions and included molecular biologist Andrew Holland (2021), mathematician Emily Riehl (2020), astrophysicist Brice Ménard (2019), nephrologist and epidemiologist Deidra Crews (2018), composer Michael Hersch (2017), molecular biologist Scott Bailey (2016), and stem cell research Sharon Gerecht (2015).

The award typically recognizes one winner and one finalist each year, but Battle and Hörst were both selected this year based on the strength of their applications and the demonstrated impact and continued potential of their work.

“The two of you embody in some sense the incredible breadth of research that goes on at JHU,” said Ed Schlesinger, dean of the Whiting School of Engineering. “From the very smallest genetic materials that define what life is all about to the planets, space, the cosmos, and the search for life beyond our own world—there is something particularly poetic about the juxtaposition of both of [your work].”

Hörst, a planetary scientist, studies the composition and characteristics of aerosols in the atmospheres of early Earth and other planets. Using laboratory experiments, modeling, and remote sensing and in situ measurements of atmospheric chemistry, Hörst and her lab work to understand how small molecules transition to become aerosols and the resulting physical and chemical properties of those particles.

Sarah Hörst

Image caption:Sarah Hörst

The work has implications for assessing the habitability of other planets and for the search for life beyond our solar system. Under the right conditions, adding energy to simple mixtures of common gases can produce much more complex molecules like amino acids, which form the building blocks of living organisms.

Essential to her work is her groundbreaking approach to laboratory science. Using a custom-built Planetary Haze Research lab—a one-of-its-kind experimental lab—Hörst and her group simulate the chemical reactions that contribute to the formation of aerosols in planetary atmospheres. With this approach, she can experiment with a vast range of temperatures (90-800 degrees Kelvin, or -297-980 degrees Fahrenheit) and can use different energy sources to initiate chemical reactions across a variety of atmospheric gases and conditions. Her lab is the first in the world to be dedicated to studying photochemical haze production in exoplanet environments, and she has published research on Saturn, Saturn’s moon Titan, and early Earth.

Hörst’s work is directly relevant to important space missions, including two upcoming NASA missions: Dragonfly, which will investigate prebiotic organic chemistry and habitability on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan; and DAVINCI+, which will probe the chemical composition of the atmosphere of Venus.

“Particularly impressive is her ingenuity and creativity in developing and leading a new scientific field essentially from scratch: extrasolar planet atmosphere laboratory studies,” wrote Sabine Stanley, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, in a letter nominating Hörst for the award. “Her work has already had major impact on the global effort to observe and characterize exoplanet atmospheres.”

She received the 2020 LAD Early Career Award from the American Astronomical Society’s Laboratory Astrophysics Division and the prestigious 2020 James B. Macelwane Medal from the American Geophysical Union, widely considered the highest honor for early career scientists in the field of geological and planetary sciences. She received a Johns Hopkins Catalyst Award in 2017 and was a co-investigator on a Discovery Award led by Maya Gomes in 2020.

Hörst received two bachelor of science degrees—one in planetary science and one in literature—from the California Institute of Technology. She received her PhD in planetary sciences from the University of Arizona, Tucson. She joined Johns Hopkins in 2014 and currently mentors three graduate students, two postdoctoral research fellows, and an associate research scientist.

Chris Celenza, dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, gave Hörst particular praise for her emphasis on mentorship and collegiality.

“I often think that we are at our best in the arts and sciences when we’re reciprocally reinforcing conversations among faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates,” Celenza said during the award presentation. “I know in your lab, you’ve cultivated that very type of engagement, so I want to thank you, deeply, for all you have done for this wonderful Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and for Johns Hopkins and for the Krieger School.”

Hörst’s dedication to her lab members was evident from the moment they “Zoom bombed” the meeting, joining in on the coordinated surprise. “When I saw the names popping up on the screen, all I could think was how much more great science the people who are already working with me are going to get to do,” Hörst said through tears. “And that means the absolute world to me.”

This article is excerpted from The Hub. The original piece was published on January 26, 2022.

HEMI Fellow Sarah Hörst Featured in New York Times for Exoplanetary Research

Sarah Hörst, HEMI Fellow and associate professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, was recently featured in a New York Times article titled, “You Don’t Need a Spaceship to Grow ‘Weird Little’ Martian Radishes”.

The piece showcases Hörst’s research on Saturn’s moon, Titan. It also speaks to the work done in her lab regarding hypothetical exoplanets, which is helping to figuring out which potential exoplanets produce smog. This information can help scientists point telescopes at orbs they can actually observe.

Sarah Hörst of Johns Hopkins University with her lab’s planetary atmospheric simulation chamber.Credit…Justin Tsucalas

In 2018, Hörst mentored a student in the HEMI/MICA Extreme Arts Summer Project who used their art to help explain the intricacies of Titan’s atmosphere. Since that time, Hörst has grown her role and  is currently leading the program’s development.

Sarah Hörst (JHU) and Amy Wetsch (MICA) at the 2018 opening of Wetsch’s show “Lateral Distance.” The show featured pieces meant to artistically visualize and simulate Titan’s atmosphere. (image: Will Kirk, Homewood Photography)

HEMI Fellow Emmy Smith Receives 2021 James Wilson Award by the Society for Sedimentary Geology

Congratulations to Emmy Smith – HEMI Fellow, principal investigator at the Smith lab and assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University – for being awarded the 2021 James Wilson Award by the Society for Sedimentary Geology.

Smith is interested in the co-evolution of life, climate, oceans, and tectonics during the Neoproterozoic and Cambrian periods. Her research is focused on testing hypotheses about mechanistic links between environmental change and evolutionary milestones at field sites around the world.

The James Wilson Award is awarded to researchers who have significant research accomplishments in sedimentary geology; nominees must be between 0-5 years from their PhD at the time of nomination. There is no citizenship requirement, nor professional organization membership requirement, for recipients of the award.

Learn more about the James Wilson Award here.

HEMI Postdoctoral Fellow Melissa Sims Receives 2020 NSF Earth Sciences Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Congratulations to Melissa Sims, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Wicks Lab at HEMI and in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, for being awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Earth Sciences Post-Doctoral Fellowship.

With her fellowship, titled “Windows into Ancient Impacts: Examining Meteoritics Research with New Approaches,” Sims will conduct independent research under HEMI Fellow and assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences June Wicks as well as with Minta Akins in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Sims will conduct experiments to better understand natural shock processes and explore phase transformation kinetics and deformation mechanisms in olivine and plagioclase. This is an extension of her current work in membrane-driven diamond anvil cell compression.

The NSF Earth Sciences Post-Doctoral Fellowship is awarded to those who have recently received doctoral degrees for independent research and professional development. The fellowship provides support for up to two years and recipients must address scientific questions in the Earth Sciences field.

Read more about Sims’ NSF Post-Doctoral Fellowship here.

Learn more about the NSF Earth Sciences Post-Doctoral fellowship here.

Two HEMI Fellows Receive 2020 Johns Hopkins Catalyst Awards

Congratulations to HEMI Fellows Sung Hoon Kang and Emmy Smith who have been selected as two of 36 early-career faculty members to receive a 2020 Johns Hopkins Catalyst Award. Professors Kang and Smith are assistant professors in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, respectively.

The Catalyst Award program offers winners the means and opportunities to pursue a wide range of projects, from disease treatments to environmental studies. Recipients of Catalyst Awards are selected based on their accomplishments to date, creativity and originality, and academic impact. Each awardee will receive a $75,000 grant to support their work over the next year, as well as the opportunity to participate in mentoring sessions and other events. Click here to view the other 2020 awardees.

The program is open to any full-time faculty member appointed to a tenure-track position at least three and no more than 10 years ago. Recipients are celebrated each fall.

Congratulations again to our HEMI awardees!

HEMI Fellow Sarah Hörst Awarded 2020 Early Career Award from American Astronomical Society

Congratulations to Sarah Hörst, HEMI Fellow and assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, who has been awarded the 2020 Early Career Award from the Laboratory Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society.

According to the award citation, Hörst is being recognized for laboratory research advancing our understanding of photochemical haze formation in planetary atmospheres within our solar system and beyond.

Within the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Prof. Hörst has established a unique laboratory to study the photochemical production of hazes in extreme environments, primarily focusing on the atmospheres of super-Earth and mini-Neptune exoplanets. Within HEMI, she has served as mentor to Amy Wetsch, a 2018 HEMI/MICA Extreme Arts Summer Intern.

Click here to view the full article on from from the Laboratory Astrophysics Division announcing Hörst’s award.

Profs. Thomas Gernay and Daniel Viete Selected as 2019 HEMI Seed Grant Awardees

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2019 HEMI Seed Grants, Prof. Thomas Gernay and Prof. Daniel Viete!

Gernay is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering. His research interests include structural fire engineering, performance-based structural design, computational mechanics, and community resilience assessment. He received the grant for his project, “Modeling Ductile Fracture in Metals under Extreme Temperatures with Application to Structural Fire Computations.”

Viete is an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, with research interests in metamorphic petrology, tectonics, structural geology, and rock mechanics. The seed grant will fund his project, “Planetary-scale fracture propagation.”

The HEMI Seed Grants are given each year to fund research in fundamental science associated with materials and structures under extreme conditions. All faculty and researchers at the Johns Hopkins University, as well as Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) Staff, who can serve as Principal and Co-Investigators are eligible to apply. Learn more about the program here

HEMI Fellow Sarah Hörst Published in Sky and Telescope Magazine

Congratulations to HEMI Fellow Sarah Hörst, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences whose article, “Titan’s Veil,” is featured in the February issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.

The eight-page article details the chemical ingredients found within the each region of atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and likens that complex atmospheric makeup to that of early Earth.  In doing so, Hörst makes a point that, by studying Titan, we might learn enough to identify markers that will allow us to recognize habitable planets surrounding other stars.

Hörst’s primary research interest is atmospheric chemistry. She is particularly interested in the complex organic chemistry occurring in the atmosphere of Titan, but is also interested in complex organics elsewhere in the solar system and universe, whether they are produced in an atmosphere or on a surface.

Sky & Telescope is the essential guide to astronomy, showcasing each month a wide array of celestial events and astronomy news to a highly-engaged audience that includes astronomy practitioners of all levels – from novices with their first telescope, to intermediate and advanced backyard astronomers, to professionals.