Northwestern University: Wen-fai Fong receives Cottrell Scholar Award

Northwestern University astrophysicist Wen-fai Fong has received a 2022 Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA), the United States’ first foundation wholly dedicated to science.

Fong is among a diverse group of 24 early career scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy recognized with the annual award. Each awardee receives $100,000.

The scholars will be honored and meet to exchange ideas July 6-8 at the Cottrell Scholar Conference in Tucson, Arizona.

“These exceptional teacher-scholars are chosen not just for their research and educational programs but for their potential to become academic leaders at their institutions and beyond,” said RCSA president and CEO Daniel Linzer.

RCSA selects Cottrell Scholars through a rigorous peer-review process of applications from a wide variety of research universities and primarily undergraduate institutions in the United States and Canada. The scholars’ award proposals incorporate both research and science education.

Fong is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a member of Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astronomy (CIERA). She received the Cottrell Scholar Award for her proposal “Toward the Next Breakthroughs in Time-Domain Astronomy: The Origins of Fast Radio Bursts.”

A fast radio burst is an intense radio emission lasting mere milliseconds, caused by an unknown high-energy astrophysical process.

With the award, Fong will combine multi-wavelength observations with archival information to explore the origins of fast radio bursts, which remain a longstanding mystery. For the educational component of her project, Fong will develop and teach an innovative and sustainable undergraduate course centered around the contributions of women and astronomers of color to major astronomical discoveries throughout history.

An expert in the universe’s fastest explosions, known as transients, Fong has received several awards, including a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, an NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, the NASA Agency Honor Award for Group Achievement and a National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellowship.

Since the first class in 1994, the Cottrell Scholar community now comprises more than 500 awardees.

“The class of 2022 joins an innovative and impactful community,” said Silvia Ronco, RCSA’s senior program director. “We look forward to seeing these latest awardees leave their mark on the face of science and academia throughout their careers.”

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