U-M Physics Professor Henriette Elvang received a Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA). Founded in 1912, RCSA is America’s first foundation dedicated wholly to science.

The awards are made to early-career science educators in the physical sciences and related fields. Only about 10 percent of those who apply for this award are approved by RCSA’s rigorous peer-review process. Professor Elvang will receive $75,000 in recognition of her scientific research as well as her dedication to teaching.

Originality, feasibility, and the prospect for significant fundamental advances to science are the main criteria for judging the candidates’ research, while contributions to education, especially at the undergraduate level, aspirations for teaching, and the candidates’ proposed strategies to achieve educational objectives are factors in assessing their teaching plans.

When physicists study subatomic particles, they must carefully consider the energy levels the particles are experiencing. For example, at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland, proton-proton collisions take place at TeV scale energies. At extremely high energies protons can be treated as massless, but in experiments the proton mass plays an important role. A key tool for taking energy levels into account is called the “renormalization
group.” Professor Elvang will study the formal properties of renormalization as it applies to theoretical particle physics, string theory, and condensed matter physics.

The educational portion of Professor Elvang’s project involves developing a sophomore-level undergraduate course encouraging students to develop – and learn to value – scientific writing and oral presentation skills as an integral part of what it means to be a scholar. She also aims to create an enhanced “active learning” process that goes well beyond passively absorbing knowledge from a classroom lecture.

The newly named Cottrell Scholars join 251 Cottrell Scholars at more than 115 colleges and universities. Cottrell Scholars are also members of the Cottrell Scholars Collaborative, a network of scholar educators who meet annually to share their methods to increase the retention of undergraduate science majors.