WMU News

Atomic physicist is Distinguished Faculty Scholar

Jan. 18, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- A Western Michigan University atomic physicist who is leading an international 'dream team' of scientists exploring atomic and molecular photoionization will receive the University's highest faculty honor next month.

Dr. Nora Berrah, professor of physics, has been named the University's 2000 Distinguished Faculty Scholar. The award will be presented during the University's Academic Convocation at 5 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 1, in Kirsch Auditorium of the Fetzer Center.

The Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award, established in 1978, recognizes those whose work constitutes a significant body of achievement, most of which has been accomplished while a faculty member at WMU. Nominations are sought campus-wide for recipients, who also must have a wide body of recognition beyond the University. The award includes a plaque and a $2,000 cash award. As an award recipient, Berrah also will have $2,000 added to her base salary.

Berrah, who has been on the WMU faculty since 1991, is recognized as one of the world's leading atomic physicists. She has received nearly $3 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding for her research on the structure and dynamics of atoms and molecules. More than $1 million of that funding has been for Berrah's leadership of a team of international scientists who developed a sophisticated experimental research facility at the Advanced Light Source located at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory.

The author or co-author of more than 80 journal articles, Berrah has made more than 60 presentations around the globe as a guest and contributed more than 100 papers to national and international conferences. This past year, she served as chairperson of the Users Executive Committee at the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. The committee oversees all scientific operations at that facility. Her emerging prominence in her field led her to be elected in 1999 as a fellow in the American Physical Society which, according to one WMU colleague, "is a particularly high honor since election is limited to no more than one half of one percent of the (organization's) membership in any given year."

"It is clear that in her relatively short professional career at WMU, Dr. Berrah has been a truly outstanding researcher, having achieved an extensive body of accomplishments that are widely recognized nationally and internationally," he noted in support of her nomination.

Berrah's research also has been credited with uncovering several here-to-fore unknown secrets of atoms and molecules. In supporting her nomination for the WMU award, a scientist at another university cited several examples of her pioneering work, stating that "Berrah's experiments in helium double photoionization have been influential in resolving a decades-long discrepancy between theory and experiment. As a result, we now have a far deeper understanding of this fundamental three-body problem."

An international colleague echoed this sentiment stating that Berrah has "contributed significantly to a better understanding of the ultimate behavior of our natural world."

Nora Berrah has the unique capacity to be the new world leader in the study of atomic and molecular photoionization processes," he wrote.

Berrah has also been lauded for her efforts in mentoring other women scientists and promoting interest in science among young women. Her activities in that area include personally working with graduate and undergraduate students, presenting seminars at Argonne National Laboratory on careers in physics and research, and participating in "Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" at the ALS facility.

Berrah's bearing in the global scientific community is especially important to her work as a mentor, noted one colleague from another university, because "Nora is internationally known and is easily the most visible woman atomic physicist her age."

Her renown has led to a variety of consulting and advising roles in the international scientific community. She advises the U.S. Department of Energy on the construction of large accelerators and on the allocation of financial resources to research. She also is a member of the committee that advises UNESCO on international science issues, and she reviews publications and national and international proposals for the National Science Foundation and for the Department of Energy.

Since being at WMU, Berrah has garnered several awards in recognition of her scientific contributions, including the international Humboldt Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and a WMU President's Award for excellence in research.

Prior to coming to WMU, Berrah was a visiting scientist at the Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max Planck Gesellschaft in Berlin, Germany, and at the Laboratoire pour l'Utilisation du Rayonement Electronique at the Universite' d'Orsay in Paris, France. She also worked as an assistant scientist at the Argonne National Laboratory.

Berrrah earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Algiers and completed her graduate work at the University of Virginia, where she earned a doctoral degree in atomic physics.

As part of her award, Berrah has been invited to give a presentation to the University community at a Distinguished Faculty Scholar Colloquium. The date, time and location of that event will be announced later.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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