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Two Scientists Receive Prestigious Honor For Young Faculty

Award recognizes ‘individuals who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar’

  • Yarrow Axford is using samples from remote lakes in Greenland to study climate change
  • Danna Freedman is working on synthesizing better qubits for quantum computing
  • Both scientists creatively integrate research and education in their work

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Geologist Yarrow Axford and chemist Danna Freedman of Northwestern University have received the prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Axford, an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, will receive nearly $600,000 over five years from NSF’s Division of Polar Programs. The award will support her research reconstructing the climate history of Southern Greenland 9,000 to 5,000 years ago to better understand climate change now.

Freedman, an assistant professor of chemistry in Weinberg, will receive $600,000 over five years from NSF’s Division of Chemistry for her work on quantum computing.

The CAREER award, the NSF’s most prestigious honor for junior faculty members, supports early career development of individuals who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research. 

Yarrow Axford

Axford and her team will map the geologic record of Greenland’s climate during the early Holocene, the last time period when the Arctic was warmer for an extended period of time. This will help scientists better predict how quickly Greenland’s existing ice sheet may shrink as global temperatures rise. 

Watch a video about Axford's Arctic field research expedition in 2014. 

“It’s an honor to receive this award, and I’m thrilled to be able to continue working in Greenland,” Axford said. “I really believe it’s a critical area of the world for climate research.”

Axford will travel to Southern Greenland in summer 2016. From remote lakes, she and her students will take sediment cores that correlate to the time in history they are studying. Back at Northwestern, Axford’s team will study the cores for certain indicators of past climate change. The team’s analyses will help reconstruct how temperatures, atmospheric circulation and glacier size changed in concert in Southern Greenland. 

In addition to her research, Axford’s award will support two initiatives: mentorship of graduate students interested in public communication of science and a collaboration with Northwestern’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships to offer yearlong climate change workshops for K-12 teachers in the Evanston-Chicago region.

Danna Freedman

Freedman and her team will focus on creating and implementing design principles to synthesize better qubits, the smallest unit of a quantum computer. Creating computers with quantum objects would enable scientists to understand electron transfer in a new way, paving the way for new generations of materials for renewable energy.

“This award will be crucial in supporting our development of quantum computation,” Freedman said. “It will help fund curious, thoughtful graduate students as well as support dissemination of the research to the broader non-scientific community.”

Freedman will integrate research and education by incorporating new scientific discoveries into the introductory chemistry curriculum at Northwestern through a combination of demonstrations, lecture examples and student-created products, such as Wikipedia pages. She also will continue work on a Museum of Science and Industry exhibit about her magnetic anisotropy research, which includes a video of her describing magnetism.

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