FRIB Theory Alliance bridge faculty member earns NSF CAREER award

Sebastian König, an assistant professor of physics at North Carolina State University (NC State) and FRIB Theory Alliance (FRIB-TA) bridge faculty member, has received a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award, also known as the NSF CAREER award, is one of the highest awards the foundation bestows upon young faculty in the sciences.

König has performed research relevant to FRIB at NC State. Through his role in FRIB-TA, he also provided theoretical input to FRIB scientific users working on science proposals submitted in response to FRIB’s first call for proposals. Through the FRIB-TA bridge program, faculty remain on-staff at their home institutions while contributing to the scientific program at FRIB and serving as spokespersons for FRIB theory, nationally and internationally.

The five-year award will support König’s research project entitled “Few-Body Physics in Finite Volume.” The project aims to develop theoretical techniques and numerical simulations of quantum systems that will help scientists understand how these systems are governed by the underlying fundamental forces.

Understanding how subatomic matter organizes itself and gives rise to life on Earth as well as to phenomena observed in the universe is a central goal of nuclear science that is relevant across many areas of physics. König’s project will address exotic corners in the landscape of atomic nuclei, where an effective cluster structure emerges out of the interaction of many constituents. The new methods developed as part of the project will be based on the observation that real-world properties of a physical system can be inferred from studying how it changes with the size of a finite geometry in which it is simulated. These methods will be relevant not only for nuclear physics, but also for other fields which exhibit very similar structures.

“I am very excited about FRIB discovering many new states in the chart of atomic nuclei near the neutron and proton driplines, among which one expects in particular so-called ‘halo’ states,” said König. “I am fascinated by how such effective few-body structures emerge out of the complex interplay of many nucleons, and the theoretical investigation of such exotic states is another aspect of the CAREER project. Surely FRIB will turn up many exciting questions that my research can address in the future!”

The project will support and train both graduate and undergraduate students. Together with the Computational Modeling in Physics First with Bootstrap program—run by a collaboration of teaching and education organizations including the American Modeling Teachers Association—the project will enhance high-school physics education.

“The project has a direct educational component that will advance STEM education in the U.S. by integrating physics and computing skills,” said König. “This is a topic which I am very passionate about, and I look forward to working on in together with the Bootstrap team!”

König earned a PhD from Bonn University in 2013. He then became a postdoctoral fellow at The Ohio State University before spending three years as a Herzberg Fellow at the Technical University of Darmstadt. He joined the NC State faculty in 2020.