COLLEGE PARK, Md - A computational astrophysicist and a quantum-focused computer scientist at the University of Maryland received 2023 Sloan Research Fellowships, one of the most competitive and prestigious awards available to early-career researchers.
The two-year, $75,000 fellowships awarded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to Benedikt Diemer and Xiaodi Wu, assistant professors in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS), recognize their distinguished performance and unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field.
Since the first Sloan Research Fellowships were awarded in 1955, 70 faculty members from UMD have received one.
"These awards from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation speak to the significance and value of Benedikt Diemer and Xiaodi Wu's research and scholarship, which have the potential to truly shape their fields," said CMNS Dean Amitabh Varshney. "We are proud to see them honored in this way."
Awarded this year to 126 of the brightest young scientists across the U.S. and Canada, the fellowships are also often seen as a marker of the quality of an institution’s science faculty and proof of an institution’s success in attracting the most promising junior researchers to its ranks.
“Sloan Research Fellows are shining examples of innovative and impactful research,” said Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “We are thrilled to support their groundbreaking work and we look forward to following their continued success.”
Diemer will use the fellowship to further his research into dark matter structure, galaxy formation and hydrodynamics. He runs and analyzes numerical simulations and works to connect the results to observations of the real universe. He has published more than 50 peer-reviewed papers.
“I am truly honored by this recognition,” Diemer said. “It’s crazy that we still don't know what 80% of the universe is made of, but the nature of dark matter is one of those elemental questions that we might actually be able to solve within our lifetime. I'm grateful to the Sloan Foundation for funding such fundamental research.”
Diemer also explores unconventional ways of expressing simulation data as part of an arts and science collaboration he co-founded called Fabric of the Universe.
He was awarded the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Prize from UMD’s Department of Astronomy in 2021. Before becoming an assistant professor, he held postdoctoral positions as a NASA Hubble Fellowship Program Einstein fellow at UMD (2019-20) and as a NASA Einstein fellow (2018-19) and an Institute for Theory and Computation fellow (2015-18) at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He received his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Chicago in 2015 and his master’s degree in physics from the University of Manchester in 2008.
Wu, who holds a joint appointment in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, is also a fellow of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science. He will use the fellowship to further his work identifying ways to bridge the gap between the theoretical foundation of quantum computing and the limitation of realistic quantum machines.
More specifically, he is interested in investigating the foundations of practical quantum applications on realistic quantum machines and building efficient and reliable systems to operate them. To that end, Wu integrates ideas from the study of theoretical computer science, machine learning, formal methods, programming languages and computer architecture with decades of research on quantum information.
“I always believe that quantum computing is a highly interdisciplinary field, and computer scientists can make foundational contributions to the realization of quantum applications in many more ways than it is conventionally perceived,” Wu said. “Thanks to my wonderful colleagues, we realized some new possibilities at Maryland. This recognition is a big encouragement for my unique research agenda. I am very excited to explore many more possibilities with the support of the Sloan Research Fellowship.”
Wu, who has published more than 50 proceedings in peer-reviewed conferences, received a distinguished paper award at the SIGPLAN Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages in 2021. He also received an Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Research award in 2021, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award in 2020, and an NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering Research Initiation Initiative Award in 2018.
Before joining UMD, Wu was an assistant professor at the University of Oregon (2015-17), a postdoctoral associate at MIT (2013-15) and a Simons Research Fellow at UC Berkeley (2014). He received his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Michigan in 2013 and his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from China’s Tsinghua University in 2008.