Physics Professor Receives Prestigious NSF Grant

Largest grant ever awarded to Grinnell for a single faculty member’s work

Eliza Kempton, assistant professor of physics, recently received a Faculty Early Career Development grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Eliza KemptonKempton is the first Grinnell College faculty member to win this prestigious grant, which is expected to provide more than $680,000 over five years. It is the largest grant ever awarded to Grinnell College in support of a single faculty member’s work.  

The grant is one of the NSF’s most prestigious and most competitive awards, supporting junior faculty who are exemplary scholars and teachers. Recipients integrate their scholarship with their organization’s educational mission.

Kempton’s project, titled “Radiative Transfer Modeling of Super-Earth Atmospheres — Looking Toward the James Webb Space Telescope and Beyond,” comprises both educational and research aims.

To increase success rates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classes at Grinnell, Kempton will develop a spatial reasoning course for students with low preparation for STEM fields, and a peer-mentoring program for STEM students from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Starting in September 2017, Kempton will create computer programs to model the atmospheric structure and composition of those planets close in size to Earth, or “super-Earths.” The computer programs will be used to study the characteristics of atmospheres of many different types of “super-Earths.” She will make these programs broadly available to other scientists to use for their research.

“This work is especially timely,” Kempton says, “because it prepares us to understand the observations of super-Earths that will be obtained with the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which will be launched in 2018. This project serves the national interest, as it helps our scientific understanding of the properties of planets around other stars and prepares us to study planets that are similar to Earth and which could harbor life.”

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