Jorge Rocca is not your average Presidential Young Investigator. Unlike the majority of his colleagues, he says the award was ‘‘a big factor’’ in his decision to remain in academia. ‘‘We like what we do,’’ he said about young researchers who have begun to build a record of achievement. ‘‘But the award strongly biases you to stay and make good use of the money."

Rocca, who is using part of his PYI money to build short-wavelength lasers, made use of a provision that permits investigators to accept hardware in lieu of cash. Several businesses that had sold him equipment in the past agreed to support his work, as did a few that had expressed interest at some point in his research.

“You can apply this money to high-risk projects for which it would be difficult to get funding,” he explained. “High-risk projects are also potentially high-payoff projects; that’s why I...

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