From the vastness of space to the inner workings of the smallest cells, West Virginia University faculty are being recognized for their approach to the practice and teaching of cutting-edge research.

Paul Cassak and Feruz Ganikhanov, assistant professors in the department of physics at WVU, have each received National Science Foundation CAREER Awards worth a combined value of more than $941,000.

The Faculty Early Career Development Program offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, education and the integration of education and research.

Paul Cassak

Cassak’s grant, entitled “CAREER: The Effect of Shear Flow on the Scaling of Magnetic Reconnection and Solar Wind-Magnetospheric Coupling,” will provide solutions to questions about magnetic reconnection, an important component of space weather research. He will help develop a predictive understanding of how solar wind energy enters the magnetosphere and potentially minimize its capability to destroy satellites, affect polar routes of airplanes and endanger astronauts.

“The sun ejects matter known as the solar wind into space, which can interact with the region of influence of the Earth’s magnetic field, known as the magnetosphere,” explains Cassak.

“Through magnetic reconnection, which occurs in hot gases called plasmas, energy from the solar wind can be transferred into the magnetosphere through an event called a substorm, where it can harm man-made objects in space.”

To examine magnetic reconnection, Cassak uses numerous techniques, like simulations, calculations and analysis of observational data, in various settings, including solar eruptions, solar flares and coronal mass ejections, and disruptive events in fusion devices.

Over the next five years, Cassak will receive more than $426,000 to develop a program of theoretical and computational plasma physics. His results could assist the interpretation of observations from existing satellites, as well as future missions like the Magnetospheric MultiScale Mission (MMS), a $700-million multi-satellite NASA mission to be launched in 2014 that will study magnetic reconnection in the Earth’s magnetosphere.

As part of the CAREER grant funding, Cassak will also develop educational resources to help recruit lower socio-economic students in West Virginia and women into the space sciences. This will include outreach programs about space weather using movies shown in WVU’s Tomchin Planetarium and other planetaria throughout the region and the country.

Cassak graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Arizona in 1998, a master’s degree in physics from the University of Wisconsin in 2001, and a doctoral degree in physics from the University of Maryland in 2006. In 2008, Cassak was awarded the Fred L. Scarf Award for outstanding dissertation research in solar-planetary science. Prior to joining WVU in 2008, he was a postdoctoral researcher in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware.

Feruz Ganikhanov

Ganikhanov’s research, entitled “CAREER: A Novel Approach to Nonlinear Microscopy System and its Application to Biological Media Characterization,” could develop a diagnostics instrument used to access the processes of biological cell division, differentiation and more that could advance the medical industry.

Over the next five years, he will receive $515,000 to develop new experimental approaches to molecularly sensitive imaging and microspectroscopy techniques. The ultimate result will be a laser-based instrument capable of detecting and tracking major biological cell constituents derived from central molecular vibrations, which has not yet been demonstrated due to a lack of detection sensitivity.

With the help of the CAREER grant, Ganikhanov will also facilitate collaborative research between the University’s research groups and other institutions through a variety of activities, including participation in the statewide Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program and hosting a summer research camp for high school students from underrepresented and minority groups. Additionally, he will work to improve an existing graduate course, develop a new graduate course and add laboratory modules to an existing undergraduate course.

Ganikhanov is also a member of WVNano, the State of West Virginia’s focal point for nanoscale science, engineering and education research, workforce development, and economic development. WVNano is a cross-cutting faculty driven effort that is the catalyst for campus NSEE discovery and innovation, shared resource stewardship and culture.

Ganikhanov earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1985 and 1987, respectively. He received a doctoral degree in laser physics from the R.V. Khokhlov Nonlinear Optics Institute at M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1991. He holds three U.S. patents and one international patent. Two patents related to his nonlinear laser microscopy work were licensed by world leading manufacturers of light microscopy equipment such as Carl Zeiss AG and Leica Microsystems AG, who now offer laser-based microscopes designed along the ideas outlined in the patents as a commercial product.

Prior to joining the WVU faculty in 2006, he was a research scientist in Harvard University’s department of chemistry and Wellman Laboratories for Photomedicine, researching the area of nonlinear optical imaging with applications to biological media. He joined Bell Labs/Lucent Technologies working in the area of digital lasers for high bit rate communication systems, was a senior laser physicist for Inrad, Inc., and spent his postdoctoral years in the Quantum Electronics Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique in France and in the ultrafast optics lab at Cornell University.

For more information, contact Earl Scime, Eberly Distinguished Professor of Physics and chair of the department of physics, at 304-293-3422 ext. 1437 or



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