This award was presented to Paul Patrone for Excellence in Research in Applied Mathematics
A staff member in NIST’s Applied and Computational Mathematics Division since 2015, Dr. Paul Patrone’s physical insight and prodigious analytic skills have enabled him to make extraordinary advances in material science, engineering, physics, and biotechnology, which have had broad impact.
Dr. Patrone’s initial work at NIST was in uncertainty quantification for molecular dynamics simulations of materials. He learned of this need while spending a year at Boeing, where they were attempting to use molecular dynamics to screen potential materials for aerospace composites. Not surprisingly, it’s a big leap from simulating a few hundred atoms for a simulated microsecond to predicting the performance of an airplane wing during many years of use. Dr. Patrone’s novel methods for assessing the quality of such simulations have made a huge difference in this community. His techniques have been implemented by the commercial software company Schrödinger and are currently in use by scientists at Boeing and Exxon Mobile among others.
Dr. Patrone’s expertise has also had impact in the field of microfluidics, which aims to measure properties of tiny quantities of complex fluids localized within channels with diameters of tens to several hundreds of micrometers for applications in medical diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and biophysics. Unfortunately, such measurements had not been reproducible. Dr. Patrone originated a completely new approach for controlling uncertainty, which led to the development of a new, patented, best-in-the-world flowmeter which can be used to measure flows as small as 10 nanoliters per minute, with uncertainties of less than 1 %.
When COVID-19 hit, Dr. Patrone admirably pivoted his research program in response. He developed a new method of baseline subtraction for analyzing qPCR data that results in measurements that are 10 times more sensitive than before. A large Arizona-based testing lab which adopted his procedure has greatly reduced its false negatives as a result, thus helping to significantly reduce transmission. Not resting on his laurels, Dr. Patrone then turned his attention to antibody serology testing, the gold standard for assessing previous infection. Standard practice for classifying results as positive or negative had not been scrutinized for decades. By leveraging optimal decision theory, Dr. Patrone developed a much more nuanced, and accurate, classification method.
Just nine years from his Ph.D., Dr. Patrone has demonstrated an unusual ability to make quick progress on important problems of national interest