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Three Penn State researchers awarded New Initiative grants from Kaufman Foundation

20 January 2021

Mikael Rechtsman, Randall McEntaffer, and Lauren Zarzar have been selected to receive New Initiative grants from the Kaufman Foundation, a supporting organization of The Pittsburgh Foundation. The foundation awards grants to scientists at institutes of higher learning in Pennsylvania who are pursuing research that explores essential questions in biology, physics, and chemistry, or that crosses disciplinary boundaries.

Mikael Rechtsman, Randall McEntaffer, Lauren Zarzar

“With the global coronavirus pandemic underway and a world waking up to the dramatic and harmful effects of climate change, particularly on the most vulnerable, it’s clear that our world needs scientific research now more than ever,” said Lisa Schroeder, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation in announcing the grants. “It’s an honor for our Foundation to carry forth Charles Kaufman’s vision of funding innovative scientific research that breaks down interdisciplinary barriers to enhance human understanding and quality of life.”

New Initiatives grants encourage investigators with strong research records to establish interdisciplinary collaborations requiring expertise beyond that of any single researcher and take a novel approach to the topic in question.

Mikael Rechtsman, Downsbrough Early Career Development Professor of Physics, and co-investigator Randall McEntaffer, professor of astronomy and astrophysics were awarded the grant for their project titled “Magnetizing light: from X-ray astronomy to silicon photonics,” which explores methods for making photon light particles “feel” magnetic fields.

Lauren Zarzar, assistant professor of chemistry, is co-investigator on a grant with Aditya Khair, professor of chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Their project, titled “Physicochemical communication between active droplets,” aims to quantify communication and propulsion of active chemical droplets that seem to exhibit dynamics traditionally associated with flocks of birds or bacterial colonies.

The fund was established in 2005 in a bequest from Charles E. Kaufman, who had a long career as a chemical engineer and later as an entrepreneur and investor. Upon his death in 2010, he left $43 million to the Foundation, of which $33 million was directed to supporting fundamental scientific research activities in chemistry, biology and physics at Pennsylvania educational institution. Including this year’s grantmaking, the Foundation has awarded 70 grants totaling $14.7 million since 2013.