Yesterday and Today / Winner of the 2011 Early Career Award


At the center of every atom in our body – and in the matter around us – there is a nucleus. Atomic cores are made up of protons and neutrons, collectively called nucleons. Different combinations of protons and neutrons can give rise to a wide range of phenomena. These range from closely related nuclei that form the familiar elements of everyday life, to fragile exotic structures that disintegrate while emitting radiation, and transient states that disintegrate leaving nucleons flowing. They even include the nuclear reactions that power the stars and drive the evolution of our universe.

Achieving a comprehensive and predictive understanding of how such a wide range of phenomena emerge from the laws of quantum mechanics and the strong fundamental force between protons and neutrons is a primary goal of nuclear physics. For a long time, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to achieving this goal was the disconnect between the microscopic treatment of the structure of nuclei as bound states of interacting nucleons and the theory used to model nuclear reactions.

This early career award has enabled me to make fundamental contributions to the development of a unified understanding of the structure and low energy reactions of light nuclei. He paved the way for the precise microscopic description of thermonuclear reactions between light nuclei during the Big Bang and within our Sun.

Another major outcome of the project has been a more fundamental understanding of the properties of halo nuclei, fragile bound states of one or two nucleons orbiting a tightly bound nucleus at surprisingly large distances. This fundamental work was then extended to the treatment of exotic nuclei and even more complex reaction processes and inspired others to develop complementary techniques.

I will be forever honored and grateful to have been the recipient of an Early Career Award.


Sofia Quaglioni is Deputy Group Leader of the Nuclear Data and Theory Group in the Division of Nuclear and Chemical Sciences at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).


The Early Career Research Program provides fundamental financial support to early career researchers, enabling them to define and conduct independent research in areas important to DOE missions. The development of outstanding scientists and research leaders is of paramount importance to the Department of Energy Office of Science. By investing in the next generation of researchers, the Office of Science is championing lifelong careers in discovery science.

For more information, please visit Early Career Research Program.


Solving the long-standing problem of low-energy nuclear reactions at the highest microscopic level

This project aims to develop a complete framework that will lead to a fundamental description of the structural properties and reactions of light nuclei in terms of constitutive protons and neutrons interacting by nucleon-nucleon and tri-nucleon forces. This is a long sought-after goal of nuclear theory that is now within reach as promising new techniques and the computing power required to implement them become available.

This project will provide the research community with the theoretical and computational tools that will allow (1) an accurate prediction of the fusion reactions that power stars and Earth fusion facilities; (2) an improved description of the spectroscopy of exotic nuclei, including light Borromean systems; and (3) a fundamental understanding of the three-nucleon force in nuclear reactions and nuclei at the drip level.


P. Navratil, S. Quaglioni, G. Hupine, C. Romero-Redondo, A. Calci, “Unified ab initio approaches to nuclear structure and reactions”. Physica Scripta 91, 053002 (2016). [DOI:10.1088/0031-8949/91/5/053002]

S. Baroni, P. Navratil and S. Quaglioni, “Description ab initio of the exotic unbound 7It core. Physical examination letters 110, 022505 (2013). [DOI:10.1103/PhysRevLett.110.022505]

S. Baroni, P. Navratil and S. Quaglioni, “Unified ab initio approach to bound and unbound states: coreless shell model with continuum and its application to 7He.” Physical examination C 87, 034326 (2013). [DOI:10.1103/PhysRevC.87.034326]

Additional profiles of Early Career Research Program scholarship recipients are available at

The Office of Science is the largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

Sandra Allen McLean is a communications specialist in the Bureau of Science, Office of Communications and Public Affairs [email protected]

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