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Award Lightning Talks—2020 MRS Spring Meeting

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MRS postponed the awards event scheduled for the 2020 MRS Spring Meeting. Now, MRS has honored researchers for their awards during a “lightening talk session” held online in November. Co-chair of the MRS Awards Committee Suveen Mathaudhu of the University of California-Riverside moderated the event. He acknowledged, “The people in the materials science and engineering community are doing the underpinning research that is going to transform the future of society.”

The session is available online.

The presentations

Jinghua Guo of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who received the MRS Innovation in Materials Characterization Award, provided examples of how in-situ/operando characterization techniques have been used to investigate the real electrochemical, catalytic, and chemical reactions during the operation. This work has advanced research, for example, toward achieving high storage capacity batteries and high-performance fuel cells.

Xiangfeng Duan of the University of California, Los Angeles received the MRS Mid-Career Researcher Award, endowed by MilliporeSigma. In order to develop electronic and optoelectronic devices by design, researchers have had to overcome the challenge of “bonding” dissimilar materials and van der Waals (vdW) integration has been a way to do it. While vdW integration has been extensively explored in two-dimensional (2D) devices, Duan takes it to a new level—beyond 2D—where researchers can design versatile artificial heterostructures, opening a path toward unprecedented device functions.

Jonathan Rivnay of Northwestern University, honored as this year’s Outstanding Early Career Investigator, combined biology and electronics by way of conjugated polymers, leading the way toward iontronic devices that can sense or stimulate biological tissues and cells. Fundamental research is needed to further understand how processes dictate the properties of these organic mixed ionic–electronic conductors.

MRS Postdoctoral Awards were given to Tian Li, who is now an assistant professor at Purdue University, and Xianwen Mao of Cornell University. MRS acknowledges the Jiang Family Foundation and MTI Corporation for their generous contribution to support this award. Both Li and Mao contribute to materials research and sustainability: Li through her research on nanocellulose and Mao through the study of electrochemical interfaces.

And, through an agreement with the European Materials Research Society (E-MRS), MRS recognizes Laura Na Liu, director of the 2nd Physics Institute at the University of Stuttgart, who received the E-MRS EU-40 Materials Prize. Liu has developed DNA origami to mimic movements seen in nature at the nanoscale, such as molecular motors in living cells.

The discussion

Each of the speakers gave a rapid 8-minute talk on their research, which was then followed by an enlightening discussion. Among the first points brought up was the need for operando characterization across various the fields. Rivnay noted how operando and in situ measurement played an important role in a number of the research projects reported. Mao agreed, saying, “That’s really surprising to me that…sometimes defects govern performance, which really caused the need for developing operando imaging tools to look at the macroscopic and microscopic information.”

After fielding a few questions from the audience, Mathaudhu chose a “big picture” question for each of the panelists: “If your research could be used to solve one problem that we have in society, what would it be?” In the biomedical field, Liu and Rivnay noted the future for DNA origami for robotic drug delivery and the design of bioelectronics that can be stable in the bio-environment long term, respectively. Duan cited more energy efficient electronics but, more significantly, that his research opens the freedom to think in terms of creating new materials. Guo sees the further development of the shop of tools to look at materials behavior, particularly for energy storage materials and moving toward a hydrogen economy. Li and Mao also look toward sustainability. Li sees where nanocellulose will play an important role in building materials. Mao sees how his work offers information on materials design principles.   

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