Von Toerne accepted the honor in Berlin, Germany, on Thanksgiving Day.
The prize, which includes a stipend of 900,000 euros or $1.2 million, will allow von Toerne to travel to Germany to concentrate mainly on his research for the next two to four years.
Funded by Germany's Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the award brings top young researchers in various disciplines across the world to Germany to carry out their research at German institutions and helps them build up their own groups of early-stage researchers.
von Toerne is part of K-State's high energy physics group and studies heavy quarks. His research is based on experiments in particle accelerators in which the fundamental structure of matter is decoded.
He participates in accelerator experiments at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago, IL, and at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, Switzerland.
"The Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize is one of the largest-endowed science prizes in Germany and has only been awarded once before: at its inception in 2002," said Jon Wefald, K-State president. "Professor von Toerne's selection not only speaks highly of his work but also indicates the world-class level of research being conducted by K-State's high energy physics group."
von Toerne joined K-State in 2002 and teaches mid- to upper-level courses in physics. He has published many articles and has made several presentations about his work in the United States and internationally.
His research specializes in the study of the heaviest quarks, which make up protons and neutrons in the atomic nuclei. Heavy quarks disintegrate immediately after their production, flying fractions of millimeters at almost the speed of light. To reconstruct the quarks, von Toerne must use special particle detectors to find quark production and to study their characteristics.
"Heavy quarks are one of the final products of the mysterious Higgs particle, which is supposed to be responsible for the generation of masses of all elementary particles," von Toerne said.
Scientists hope to discover the Higgs particle with the use of the LHC collider in Switzerland and the use of the special particle detectors.
von Toerne plans to take leave from K-State at the end of the spring 2005 semester to set up his laboratory at Germany's Bonn University, where he received his master's and doctoral degrees. He also will collaborate with Norbert Wermes, a professor at the Institute of Physics in Bonn.
He said he was looking forward to being closer to the Switzerland collider for his work but that he would miss K-State.
"This award will allow me to double my research efficiency, but I will look forward to returning to K-State to continue my teaching," von Toerne said. "K-State physics students are very good."
"While we will miss having Dr. von Toerne on campus full time over the next few years, we realize that the research opportunity will enable him to enhance his stature as an international leader in high energy physics," said Dean Zollman, university distinguished professor of physics and head of the K-State department of physics. "When he returns to K-State, he will be able to bring these experiences to both his research and to his teaching."
von Toerne is among the 11 recipients of the 2004 Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize.
Eckhard von Toerne Receives Sofja Kovaleskaja Prize