David Weld, assistant professor of physics at UCSB, has been awarded a two-year $50,000 fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to aid and further his research.

Founded in 1934, the Alfred Sloan Foundation awards the Sloan Research Fellowship to scholars in recognition of their promising research performance and prospective future contribution to the scientific community. The fellowships are awarded in seven fields: physics, chemistry, neuroscience, computer science, evolutionary and computational molecular biology, economics and mathematics. This year’s winners were picked from 58 colleges and universities in both the U.S. and Canada.

According to Weld, past Fellowship recipients boast a tradition of excellence.

“It’s certainly very gratifying for our research to be recognized with a Sloan fellowship,” Weld said. “Previous Sloan fellows have set a very high bar for scientific achievement, so we have our work cut out for us.” According to Physics Professor Pierre Wiltzius — the Susan and Bruce Worster Dean of Science — Weld’s exceptional work since joining UCSB’s physics department two years ago has made him a rapidly rising star in the field of experimental ultracold atomic physics.

“Sloan Research Fellowships are highly competitive and being awarded this is a big feather in his cap,” Wiltzius said in an email. “He is clearly among the elite young scientists in the country.”

Weld works on experimental ultracold atomic physics and is currently building two experiments aimed at producing ultracold samples of lithium and strontium atoms. The machines will be designed to produce the lowest temperatures in the universe, to then be used to study many-body quantum mechanics and quantum dynamics.

Several of Weld’s students work closely with him to bring the best results to the research, as fourth-year physics major Erica Mason said Weld’s work strives to explore the inner-workings of quantum mechanic properties.

“Dr. Weld’s research uses ultracold strontium and lithium atoms trapped in optical lattices to simulate condensed matter systems, and will conduct experiments in order to understand quantum mechanical properties,” Mason said in an email. “My project is the construction of one of the lasers that will be used for cooling and trapping strontium.”

According to second-year PhD candidate in the physics department, Zach Geiger, the team hopes to elucidate some of the physics that exist in systems and scales that are normally very challenging to study.

“While our group is fairly new I think the research is very promising,” Geiger said in an email. “Our goal is to bring the precision and control of Atomic Physics to solve problems of condensed matter systems. We’ll do this by using Bose Einstein Condensates in optical lattices to mimic the behavior of electrons in ionic lattices [solids].”

According to Wiltzius, the physics department at UCSB is ranked by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences as one of the top five in the country, giving students the opportunity to study and be involved with world-leading research projects.

“This is a tribute to the excellence in teaching and research here at UCSB,” Wiltzius said. “One of the wonderful opportunities that many of our undergraduate students have is to do research in a professor’s research group. This adds a new dimension and excitement to the undergraduate experience.”

UCSB’s physics department has grown tremendously over the past 30 years and is now among the world’s best, with physics faculty frequently winning prizes and awards for their research, Wiltzius said.

“This is an exciting place and also one that we need to keep nurturing,” Wiltzius said.

According to Geiger, UCSB is very strong in the field, consistently ranking among the top programs in the nation.

“The UCSB Physics department is very research driven and I feel that this push to create new knowledge makes our university one of the best in the country,” Geiger said. “We have a fantastic department here and I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of it.”

A version of this article appeared on page 1 of February 28th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.