Dr. Lyon B. King Wins Presidential Award

Assistant Professor L. Brad King (MEEM) traveled to Washington, DC, this week to accept a 2003 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers at the White House.

King is among 60 faculty members selected from U.S. colleges and universities to receive a Presidential Award, which is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers at the beginning of their careers. The recipients are chosen by the White House from among nominees selected by the top U.S. research agencies, including NASA, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. King’s name was put forward by the Department of Defense. All nominees have received their PhD degrees within the last five years.

As part of the Presidential Award, King receives a five-year, $500,000 grant to continue his research on very-high-powered ion engines, which could be used for manned Mars missions or ambitious robotic space science missions.

Ion propulsion engines currently rely on xenon gas for fuel. However, xenon’s pricetag-about $3,200 a pound-gives new meaning to the cliche “skyrocketing energy costs.”

King is experimenting with an alternative fuel that could slash the cost of ion propulsion. The white, brittle metal bismuth goes for about $3.60 a pound, is much easier to handle and store, and could reduce the cost of developing a manned mission to Mars by a factor of 200 over conventional xenon engines.

“Not only is bismuth a lot cheaper, it actually works better,” King said. “It’s also easier to use and more efficient. People have known this for a long time, but the technology to implement it hasn’t existed until now.”

The critical system that enables bismuth to be used as a propellant was developed by King at MTU; a patent is pending.

King, a 1989 graduate of Calumet High School, joined the Michigan Tech faculty in 2000. Along with other President Award recipients, he will be honored at an award ceremony Thursday, Sept. 9, and will tour the White House on Friday, Sept. 10.

The White House announced September 9, 2004 the recipients of the 2003 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the nation’s highest honor for professionals at the outset of their independent research careers. Fifty-seven researchers were honored in a ceremony presided over by John H. Marburger III, Science Advisor to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, established in 1996, honors the most promising beginning researchers in the nation within their fields. Eight federal departments and agencies annually nominate scientists and engineers at the start of their careers whose work shows the greatest promise to benefit the nominating agency’s mission. Participating agencies award these beginning scientists and engineers up to five years of funding to further their research in support of critical government missions.

In addition the 2003 PECASE award, Professor King received the prestigious 2004 NSF CAREER Award. The title of the research is “Electron Fluid Dynamics in a Hall-effect Accelerator”, with a total project value of $602,000. The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a NSF-wide activity that offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards for new faculty members. The Award states that “The CAREER program recognizes and supports the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.”