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Wen-fai Fong receives prestigious NSF CAREER Award

Grants recognize ‘individuals who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar’

Northwestern University’s Wen-fai Fong has received the prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the foundation’s most prestigious honor for junior faculty members.

Fong is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and member of the Center for Interdisciplinary Education and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA). She will receive $777,186 over five years from NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences to characterize the properties of galaxies that host short duration gamma-ray bursts (SGRBs) and fast radio bursts (FRBs).

Fong career award
Wen-fai Fong

“SGRBs and FRBs are two of the universe’s fastest timescale transients,” Fong said. “My project aims to study them in unprecedented detail. I am so excited to receive this CAREER Award, especially because it allows us to expand upon our previous work, while enabling us to branch out into new directions.”

While SGRBs originate from neutron star mergers, the origins of FRBs remain a longstanding mystery. Fong plans to study the host galaxies of both phenomena in order to better understand how they form. 

“My group will use a wide range of observational facilities around the world and in space to study the galaxy environments of both populations,” Fong said. “As host galaxies represent the ‘homes’ of these transients, they have proved to be extremely important tools in understanding origins of mysterious transients. We will pair our observations with modeling and provide large legacy samples to diversify our existing knowledge, or in the case of FRBs, lay important groundwork.”

The CAREER Award is designed to support promising young faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through the combination of outstanding research and education. In addition to the research, Fong will partner with experts on diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as local initiatives to develop opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities in STEM.

“Wen-fai and her excellent group will continue to study short gamma-ray bursts and also branch out and study fast radio bursts, which currently are one of the big mysteries of transient astronomy,” said Michael Schmitt, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern. “Furthermore, Wen-fai will establish an important and far-reaching program, which will provide mentorship for women and underrepresented students and help them pursue their interests in astronomy and astrophysics.”