UCSB’s physics department garnered national fame last week when two of its junior faculty received prestigious awards in the field.

Tommaso Treu, an associate professor of physics, was awarded the 2010 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize by the American Astronomical Society, while assistant professor of physics Benjamin Monreal won an Early Career Research Program Award from the Office of Nuclear Physics at the U.S. Department of Energy. Although Treu’s cash award has not yet been determined by the AAS Council, Monreal will collect $904,000 over the next five years.

Treu was awarded the prize by the largest organization of professional astronomers in North America for his work on the formation and evolution of galaxies, groups and clusters, the press release said.

“I found out a few weeks ago and I was very surprised,” Treu said. “Even though it came as a shock, I was so honored.”

Moreover, Vice Chancellor for Research Michael Witherell said in a press release that the award reflects Treu’s unparalleled success as a young scientist.

“This prize recognizes the outstanding discoveries Tommaso has already made early in his career and the impact they have had in the field of astronomy,” Witherell said “He joins a very select group of astronomers who have won this prize over its history.”

While Treu’s prize is awarded on an annual basis for achievement in observational astronomical research, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said in a press release that Monreal’s award was made possible by the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Monreal’s award, intended to recognize future promise for someone still early in their career, was one of only 69 given out to the applicant pool of 1,750 scientists looking to receive large research grants.

“This investment reflects the administration’s strong commitment to creating jobs and new industries through scientific innovation,” Chu said. “Strong support of scientists in the early career years is crucial to renewing America’s scientific workforce and ensuring U.S. leadership in discovery and innovation for many years to come.”

Furthermore, the press release also noted that Monreal is currently conducting research on nuclear, particle and astrophysics ranging from neutrino mass measurements to dark matter phenomenology. His award will help him pursue his current project, “New Experiments to Measure the Neutrino Mass Scale.”