VCU Physics Professor Named Jefferson Science Fellow

Professor to bridge science, technology, and foreign policy at federal Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State

Puru Jena, Ph.D., distinguished professor of physics at Virginia Commonwealth University, is one of nine tenured, research-active scientists and engineers selected nationwide as a 2007 Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.

Jefferson Science Fellows advise and educate policy officials, including the Secretary of State, of complex, scientific issues and their potential impact on U.S. foreign policy and international relations. Following a one-year term, Jena will return to VCU, but remain available to the U.S. government as an expert consultant for short-term projects for a period of five years.

"This is a highly competitive award that will allow Dr. Jena to engage his passion for science and technology with foreign policy," said Francis Macrina, Ph.D., VCU's vice president for research. "The credentials of past Jefferson Science Fellows attest to the importance of this appointment to VCU."

Candidates are selected for their scientific achievements, articulation and communication skills, ability to accurately describe scientific topics for non-expert audiences, and their interest in issues at the intersection of science, diplomacy and foreign policy.

"This is a very exciting honor," Jena said. "I'll have the opportunity to provide advice on establishing sound governmental policy in science and technology that can impact foreign policy as well."

For approximately 30 years, Jena, an educator and prolific researcher, has been dedicated to teaching future generations of physicists. His research interests range from atomic and molecular physics to solid state and chemical physics. His studies are aimed at understanding properties of novel materials at an atomic scale using state-of-the-art theoretical techniques. He has acted as principal investigator on projects totaling more than $8 million in grant funding.

In 2001, Jena received the Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia, the highest honor given by the state of Virginia. In 1991, he received the University Award of Excellence, the highest honor given by Virginia Commonwealth University. Jena served as chair of the Department of Physics at VCU from 1989 to 1991, and is the founding director of the Consortium for Nanostructured Materials, where he was responsible for catalyzing collaboration among members of the consortium.

Jena served a one-year term as the program director for the Division of Materials Research at the National Science Foundation, where he managed grant proposals and awards, as well as the budget. Additionally, he has been a member of national panels at the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, where he has contributed to the development of science. 

He has published more than 350 research papers in a number of academic journals.

Most recently, in the January 2007 issue of Science, Jena and his colleagues announced the discovery of a new class of aluminum-hydrogen compounds that may have applications as high-energetic materials.

In the July 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Jena and colleagues reported the development of a new storage system to hold large quantities of hydrogen fuel that may one day power cars in a more cost-effective and consumer-friendly way. Their theoretical research moves scientists another step closer in the exploration of alternative fuel sources and methods to store hydrogen fuel.

In other work from 2004, Jena and his team created a so-called "nano-bullet" that targets tumors and may help scientists develop non-invasive cancer treatments. They found that when gold particles are reduced to a few nano-meters they become highly reactive and readily bind to silica clusters, allowing the cluster to absorb infrared light and create enough heat to potentially kill cancer tumors. Silica is the main element in sand. The work was reported in the October 2004 issue of the American Physical Society journal Physical Review Letters.

Jena earned his doctoral degree in physics from the University of California and completed his previous training at Utkal University in India. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society.

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.