Engineering alumnus receives Sloan Fellowship

Dr Pedro Sáenz (Image credit: UNC Chapel Hill / Joseph Clampett)
Dr Pedro Sáenz (Image credit: UNC Chapel Hill / Joseph Clampett)

The School’s former PhD student Pedro Sáenz has been awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship, which is among the most prestigious awards given to early-career scientists.

Dr Sáenz, who graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a PhD in fluid mechanics in 2014, is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill.

Next generation of leaders

The Edinburgh alumnus is among 126 extraordinary US and Canadian early-career researchers awarded a Sloan Fellowship in 2023, in recognition of their creativity, innovation and research accomplishments which makes them stand out as the next generation of leaders.

Awarded annually since 1955, a Sloan Fellowship is among the most coveted awards given to early-career researchers in part because many past fellows have gone on to great achievements in science. Fifty-six fellows have received a Nobel Prize in their respective field.

The new fellows, who were nominated by their peers, are drawn from a diverse range of 54 institutions across seven academic fields. Winners receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship which can be used to advance their research.

“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.”

Research focus

Dr Sáenz’s research is interdisciplinary, lying at the intersection of mathematics and fundamental physics. His work focuses on the mathematical description of nonlinear fluid processes to reveal surprising connections between classical mechanics, which describes the familiar behaviour of large objects, and quantum mechanics, which describes the strange behaviour of tiny particles such as electrons.

His recent research has demonstrated that oil droplets walking on the surface of a vibrating liquid may behave like sub-atomic particles in a number of settings, revealing particle-wave dual effects previously thought exclusive to the quantum world.

“In our lab, we combine theory, simulations and experiments to better understand fundamental problems in physics and engineering,” Sáenz explained.

“We work to demonstrate that odd behaviours displayed by electrons and other atomic-sized particles can be recreated with larger particles visible to the human eye that move guided by the waves they excite.”

Following his PhD at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Sáenz pursued postdoctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he taught applied mathematics before joining the UNC Chapel Hill faculty in 2019.

Dr Sáenz is also the recipient of a National Science Foundation Early Career Development Award and recently won the American Physical Society’s Van Dyke Gallery of Fluid Motion Award.

Interdisciplinary achievement

Professor Prashant Valluri, who supervised Dr Sáenz’s PhD during his time at Edinburgh said: “Pedro epitomises interdisciplinary collaboration and his works speaks volumes on this. His career so far has spanned across engineering and applied mathematics fields.

“Trained as a civil engineer in his native Spain, finished his PhD at The University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering in a topic more aligned to applied mathematics and chemical engineering, then moving on to MIT Applied Mathematics for an experimental and theoretical based post-doctoral work, and finally now on to his academic position in Applied Mathematics.

“I am so proud that he has won the prestigious Sloan prize but at the same time not surprised given his excellent research!”

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