Hayes receives 5 Sigma Physicist Award

The award recognizes Hayes’ outstanding science policy advocacy throughout 2019.

Sophia Hayes, professor of chemistry, has been named a 5 Sigma Physicist by the American Physical Society (APS) for her outstanding science advocacy. Hayes’ high-impact advocacy included testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on Capitol Hill last December, where she urged Congress to protect U.S. helium supplies.

In addition to her work with lawmakers in 2019, Hayes shared her expertise in a webinar hosted by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and contributed her voice to media outlets. As she told NPR last fall, helium as an unreactive, inert gas is the only element that is a completely nonrenewable resource. “In general, it’s the one element out of the entire periodic table that escapes Earth and goes out into outer space,” Hayes said, though she also noted that highly reactive hydrogen could escape in certain circumstances. Since helium has been deemed critical to U.S. national security and the economy and is essential in applications from MRIs to smartphones, protecting our supply is more important than ever. 

Hayes described herself as “both honored and humbled” to receive the 5 Sigma Physicist distinction, which borrows a statistical term to mark honorees as five standard deviations from ordinary. “Scientists often have specialized, detailed knowledge, and if that can be put to good use outside the lab for the betterment of society, then it’s a tremendous opportunity,” Hayes said.