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WVU’s Eberly College announces 2017-18 Outstanding Researcher Award recipients

The  Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at West Virginia University has named two recipients of the 2017-18 Outstanding Researcher Award: Sean McWilliams and Aaron Metzger

Sean McWilliams and Aaron Metzger
Sean McWilliams and Aaron Metzger

“Both (McWilliams and Metzger) epitomize the very best in research and scholarship. Though their fields are vastly different, they are making significant contributions in their respective disciplines,” said Gregory Dunaway, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “WVU and the Eberly College are very fortunate to have these faculty in our ranks.”

McWilliams, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is a gravitational wave astronomer. As a theoretical physicist, he uses high performance computing to study problems in general relativity. He is focused on understanding the dynamics of compact binaries, which are systems composed of black holes, neutron stars and white dwarfs. Through numerical simulations and analytical modeling, he studies the behavior of these systems, which stretch Einstein’s theory of relativity to its limit.

As a member of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), McWilliams was part of a team that directly detected gravitational waves, or ripples in space and time, from the collision of two black holes. The computational models developed by McWilliams and his colleagues played a pivotal role in the discovery, which received the Noble Prize in physics. 

Sean McWilliams
Sean McWilliams

“I was drawn to the field as an undergraduate student by its scientific promise. I have since played a significant role in fleshing out that promise and renewing our theoretical expectations,” McWilliams said. “The emergence of this new field of gravitational-wave astronomy is likely to be among the most transformative scientific breakthroughs in my lifetime. As thrilling as the discoveries we have already made have been, whenever scientists push into a new frontier, the most exciting discoveries are often phenomena that are completely unexpected. Therefore, it is very reasonable to not only hope, but to expect, that the best is yet to come.”  

McWilliams received a PhD in physics from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2008 and subsequently held positions as a postdoctoral fellow at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Columbia University and Princeton University. He teaches Introductory Physics, Classical Mechanics and General Relativity.

“(McWilliams’s) gravitational research is at the cutting edge of his field,” said Earl Scime, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “His work has received international attention. We are witnessing the birth of an entirely new area of physics, and (McWilliams) is in the thick of it.”

Metzger, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, has been researching lifespan developmental psychology for over a decade. Since arriving at WVU in 2009, his research efforts have produced 35 articles or chapters published in peer-reviewed journals. 

Aaron Metzger
Aaron Metzger

Metzger explores social-cognitive aspects of civic development, including adolescents’ civic and political reasoning, conceptualizations of citizenship and beliefs about civic behavior, community membership and political participation. In addition, he examines the developmental impact of adolescents’ community service or political activity as well as the developmental benefits of community organization.

“Civic engagement is the backbone of democracy. Engaged citizens help improve society, increase community vitality and solve social problems. Developmental science has been increasingly interested in the individual and contextual factors that facilitate youth civic engagement, which, has been consistently linked to active participation in adulthood,” Metzger said. “In an age of social and political uncertainty, a broadened understanding of the roots of civic development has the potential to help bolster political institutions, increase civil dialogue and understanding, and aid in the creation of healthy, caring and self-supporting communities.”

Metzger earned a PhD in psychology in 2007 from the University of Rochester, and completed postdoctoral training at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He teaches Child and Adolescent Development, Methodological Issues in Developmental Psychology, Multivariate Statistics and Seminar in Methodology.  

“(Metzger’s) work on civic engagement in youth positions him as one of a few recognized authorities in this emerging area of investigation. We hear a good bit about children and adolescents who misbehave, but rarely hear news stories about the impressive pro-social behaviors youth of today are displaying,” said Kevin Larkin, chair of the Department of Psychology. “His work highlights a broad range of these behaviors that provide hope that the next generation of Americans possesses considerable civic-mindedness, an interest in promoting healthy behaviors and engagement in community support programs.”

Recipients of the Eberly College’s Outstanding Researcher Award are listed on a plaque in Woodburn Hall, and are awarded $1,500 to pursue professional development opportunities.