Congratulations to the 2021 Virtual MRS Spring Meeting Science as Art Winners!

First Place

2021 Spring Meeting Graduate Student Awards

The MRS Graduate Student Awards are intended to honor and encourage graduate students whose academic achievements and current materials research display a high level of excellence and distinction. In addition to the MRS Graduate Student Gold and Silver Awards, the Arthur Nowick Graduate Student Award, which honors the late Dr. Arthur Nowick and his lifelong commitment to teaching and mentoring students in materials science, will be presented to a GSA finalist who shows particular promise as a future teacher and mentor.



Chullhee Cho
Chullhee Cho

University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign

Ahyoung Kim
Ahyoung Kim
University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign

Joeson Wong
Joeson Wong
California Institute of Technology

Guomin Zhu
Guomin Zhu
University of Washington



Jingshan S. Du
Jingshan S. Du
Northwestern University

Nikita Dutta
Nikita Dutta (Nowick Prize)
Princeton University

Zhiwei Fang
Zhiwei Fang
The University of Texas at Austin

Hanson Wang
Hansen Wang
Stanford University


Hanson Wang
Jiayue Wang
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Wanghuai Xu
Wanghuai Xu
City University of Hong Kong

MRS acknowledges the generous contribution for the Nowick Award to the MRS Foundation from Joan Nowick in memory of her husband Dr. Arthur Nowick.

Best Poster Winners–2021 Virtual MRS Spring Meeting

Hector Mandujano, The University of Texas at El Paso, (CT04.01.06)

Changho Hon, Seoul National University, (CT05.14.05)    

Yunseul Kim, Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, (EL01.10.15)

Daniel Davies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, (EL01.14.10)  

Jingjing Shi, Georgia Institute of Technology, (EL04.13.07)             

Wonjin Choi, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, (EL05.13.03)     

Komalika Rani, Université Paris-Saclay, (EL09.07.01)        

Sang Seob Lee, Yonsei University, (EN01.08.05) 

Alessia Fortunati, Politecnico di Torino, (EN02.01.06)      

Virgil Andrei, University of Cambridge, University of Cambridge, (EN02.06.03)     

Eman Alhajji, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, (EN03.08.01) 

Teresa Cristina Rojas, Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Sevilla, (EN05.03.04)

Davide Moia, Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, (EN06.10.08)              

Eric Chang, Duke University, (EN07.04.04)            

Albanie Hendrickson-Stives, The Pennsylvania State University, (NM05.04.05)    

Hyoung Taek Kim, Sungkyunkwan University, (NM09.10.02)        

Chunhong Dong, Georgia State University, (SM01.03.03)               

Sebastian Buchmann, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, (SM03.01.06)  

Jeong Eun Park, Inha University, (SM05.06.05)   

Jisoo Jeon, Inha University, Inha University, (SM07.08.09)             

Che-Hsuan Cheng, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, (ST01.07.07)          

Hojang Kim, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, (ST01.11.06)  

Kooknoh Yoon, Seoul National University, (ST04.04.07)

Meeting the MRS Awardees

Research is a journey of many challenging obstacles followed by some exciting moments. One of these exciting moments is when your hard work, as a scientist, is acknowledged by the scientific community. The MRS reward program aspires to recognize the achievements of pioneers in the field of materials science. The MRS award recipients - lightning talks and panel discussion on Tuesday was a unique opportunity to hear directly from the awardees about their outstanding work. During the session, chaired by Professor Suveen Mathaudhu, five awardees presented and engaged in active discussions about their remarkable contributions to the development of materials research. 

This year's two MRS Postdoctoral Awards were granted to Dr. Yang Liu of the Pennsylvania State University and Dr. Yu Jun Tan of the National University of Singapore. Dr. Liu received this award as a recognition "for the pioneering research in ferroelectric polymers to achieve high piezoelectric responses and outstanding contributions to the understanding of relaxor ferroelectricity in polymers." Dr. Tan explained in her talk that her esteemed work in "developing stretchable, self-healing materials for smart electronics" was inspired by the unique properties of the skin of not only humans but jellyfish! Research in the development of skin-like electronics is also the interest of Professor Zhenan Bao of Stanford University, the recipient of the Mid-Career Researcher Award. Professor Bao was recognized "for pioneering contributions and conceptual developments to organic electronics and skin-inspired electronics." 

The Outstanding Early-Career Investigator Award was granted to Professor Huolin Xin of the University of California, Irvine. This reward is accorded to young scientists working in interdisciplinary materials research. "Although I'm a physicist, I do a lot of work in the chemistry domain," stated Prof. Xin. This statement resonated with me because I also work in a multidisciplinary field of research and often cross the physics/chemistry border. The remarkable work of Professor Xin on the "development of innovative transmission electron microscopy imaging methodologies for advancing energy storage and conversion materials" was the reason behind his recognition. Last but not least Professor Jinawei (John) Miao, of the University of California, Los Angeles, was awarded the Innovation in Materials Characterization Award "for pioneering coherent diffractive imaging for a wide range of material systems and atomic electron tomography for determining atomic positions without assuming crystallinity." You can find the awardees' talks here. I left this session with a lot of information to process but also a strong motivation to work harder on my research.

This was my view of Tuesday's 2021 virtual MRS spring meeting and exhibit. If you enjoyed it, why don't you come back for one more blog post!

Plenary Session Featuring The Fred Kavli Distinguished Lectureship in Materials Science

Plenary_Paul AlivisatosPaul Alivisatos, University of California, Berkeley
Recent Advances in the Study of Colloidal Nanocrystals Enabled by In Situ Liquid Cell Transmission Electron Microscopy

Written by Sophia Chen

Paul Alivisatos received this year’s Fred Kavli Distinguished Lectureship in Materials Science. A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Alivasatos is slated to become the next president of the University of Chicago this fall.

Alivisatos researches the use of electron microscopy to study nanocrystals inside liquid cells—pockets of liquid sandwiched between layers of graphene containing the material of interest. The liquid cell environment allows researchers to observe dynamics in systems ranging from biological cells to battery interfaces.

In his presentation, Alivisatos discussed his optimism about the future of nanoscience, particularly the integration of new data science tools for analyzing electron microscopy images. These new data science tools allow researchers to find patterns in large datasets quickly. “I’m enamored of them,” said Alivisatos of the available data science tools. “I think they’re really going to accelerate what we’re going to be able to do.”

His research team is working to understand the interaction between electron beam and liquid cell. They have used convolutional neural networks, a common machine learning technique, to study the motion of gold nanoparticles in a liquid cell. The neural network could classify electron microscope images of the nanoparticles into different types of motion, such as Brownian motion or a random walk.

To reap the power of these new data science tools, researchers must integrate them with more “classical,” physically motivated approaches, said Alivisatos. His group has studied the chemical environment inside the liquid cell after being probed by the electron microscope. Using old-school concepts like redox couples, they were able to control some activity inside the liquid cell.

Alivisatos also presented recent work from his group on why some crystals become chiral. Curiously, some crystals grow to become left- or right-handed on the macroscopic scale even when its constituent microscopic parts are the opposite chirality. Studying tellurium crystals, the research group found that while the presence of ligands of certain handedness will bias a crystal to match its chirality, these ligands are neither necessary nor sufficient to determine the crystal’s final chirality.

One virtual audience member asked Alivisatos for advice for younger researchers. Alivisatos described the benefits of sharing your work openly, and its contribution to others’ research. “If there’s one thing I would say to early career colleagues, it’s to recognize that you’re part of a community,” said Alivisatos.

The Kavli Foundation is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity, promoting public understanding of scientific research and supporting scientists and their work.

Jianwei (John) Miao, MRS Innovation in Materials Characterization Award Recipient

MRS TV talks to Jianwei (John) Miao, recipient of the 2021 MRS Innovation in Materials Characterization Award for pioneering coherent diffractive imaging for a wide range of material systems and atomic electron tomography for determining atomic positions without assuming crystallinity.



2021 MRS Communications Lecture

Sossina Haile photoSossina M. Haile, Northwestern University
Untangling the Surface Chemistry and Reactivity of Ceria

Written by Sophia Chen

Sossina Haile of Northwestern University gave the 2021 MRS Communications Lecture, which recognizes excellence in the field of materials research through work published in MRS Communications. Haile presented her work on ceria (CeO2), a ceramic catalyst used in many heterogeneous chemical reactions, or where the reactants are different phases of matter. Haile discussed ceria’s applications in fuel cells and solar fuels, where solar energy can be stored in liquid form.

Haile highlighted her work characterizing ceria’s surface chemistry. Curiously, ceria’s surface contains larger quantities of Ce3+ compared to Ce4+ than the rest of the material—in other words, the surface is more reduced than its bulk. While experts have long known this discrepancy, they do not fully understand the fundamental science behind it.

Haile, working with her graduate student Weizi Yuan, took direct measurements of ceria’s surface to try to understand why the material’s surface was more reduced. They used a technique known as angle-resolved x-ray absorption near-edge spectroscopy (XANES) to study films of ceria on a substrate. By controlling the angle that x-rays penetrate the film, the researchers studied the concentration of Ce3+ in the first few nanometers of the film.

Using XANES, Haile and Yuan studied the effect of doping the ceria with zirconium. They found that the doped ceria contained more reduced cerium atoms on its surface than in its bulk. They also found that the surface of undoped ceria has a higher concentration of reduced cerium atoms compared to ceria with zirconium. This result was surprising, as it contrasts with the behavior in the bulk of the ceria. There, Ce3+ concentration increases with zirconium concentration.

Haile and Yuan were also interested in how the shape of the material’s surface influenced its chemistry. Ceria can form in different shapes such as cubes, rods, and octahedral, and previous studies have shown that the different shapes’ surfaces exhibit different catalytic activity. Surprisingly, they found that the concentration of Ce3+ did not significantly depend on the shape of the catalyst’s surface.

The results raise more questions about ceria’s structure and activity, and in their article, the researchers suggest more precision study of the material’s surface atomic structure and defect concentration. Haile likens the work to untangling a large knot. “There’s quite a bit of the knot left, but we’ve made some progress,” said Haile.

Meet MRS Award Recipients—Lightning Talks and Panel Discussion

Written by Sophia Chen

This year, the Materials Research Society awarded researchers with expertise ranging from three-dimensional (3D) imaging to human-skin-inspired robotics. The award recipients gathered virtually to deliver pre-recorded talks and participate in a live panel on Monday evening. The panel was moderated by MRS Awards Committee chair Suveen Mathaudhu of the University of Califorinia, Riverside.

Materials in 3D

A material’s structure contains information about its properties or function. Or, as Jianwei (John) Miao of the University of California, Los Angeles puts it: “A picture is worth one thousand words, but in my opinion a 3D atomic model is worth one thousand pictures.”

Miao received the Innovation in Materials Characterization Award for pioneering two techniques for studying materials’ three-dimensional structure, coherent diffractive imaging, and atomic electron tomography. “Overall, these two techniques open up a new world to look at atomic structures,” he said.

Miao pioneered coherent diffractive imaging as a graduate student, publishing the work in 1999. In coherent diffractive imaging, x-rays are beamed at a sample, and the resulting diffraction pattern is converted into an image via a computational algorithm. The algorithm essentially serves the purpose of a lens in conventional microscopy. The technique enables high-quality x-ray imaging of amorphous materials, which was difficult with previous techniques. 

Atomic electron microscopy can also image amorphous materials, albeit with a beam of electrons rather than x-rays. In this technique, the researchers take multiple images of their material and use computational algorithms to calculate the position of the material's individual atoms. For example, Miao presented work that could determine atomic position to 19 picometers. Publishing this April in NatureMiao's research team has used the method to perform the first 3D mapping of an amorphous material, a metallic glass consisting of 18,356 atoms.

Recent technological revolutions have benefited atomic imaging in both the space and time domain, said Miao. Researchers can now study systems down to the angstrom (10-10 meters) and their time dynamics approaching the attosecond (10-18 seconds) realm.

Robots with a Sense of Touch

Zhenan Bao of Stanford University received the Mid-Career Researcher Award for her work developing materials for robotics inspired by human skin. Bao is working to move beyond the rigid, brittle world of silicon electronics toward soft, potentially wearable or implantable materials. “We envision a future of electronics that is comfortable, invisible, imperceptible, biocompatible, and autonomous,” said Bao.

Electronics inspired by human skin began as early as the 1970s, with a demonstration of a prosthetic hand covered with sensors. Bao listed some other early concepts, such as touchscreens and even instances in movies.

Bao develops flexible sensors that mimic the sense of touch, she said. These materials—so-called electronic skin—cannot only match the form factor of human skin, but they also integrate other skin functionalities, such as stretchability, biodegradability, and the ability to self-heal.

Over the past decade, her group has developed fundamental understanding for designing electronic skin as well as applications for these materials. They have designed and studied conductors, semiconductors, dielectric materials, and substrates that were flexible without compromising their electronic properties. They have built an array of sensors from these materials for sensing pressure, strain, and temperature. Last year, Bao’s team used their flexible electronics to image a beating pig’s heart. They have also been working on electronics that grow and change with the human body without unwanted strain.

Her research team has been able to build more complex electronics over time. Their first generation material consisted of 347 transistors per square centimeter, and they are now at 42,000. Bao thinks they can achieve 100,000 transistors per square centimeter in the foreseeable future.

“We believe stretchable electronic sensors, circuits, and batteries are going to change our relationships with electronics and with each other,” said Bao.

An Atom on a Frame

The agriculture industry makes fertilizer using the Haber-Bosch process: an energy-guzzling conversion of nitrogen into ammonia, a chemical reaction nitrogen fixing. These reactions use so much energy because they must occur above 400°C at more than a hundred times atmospheric pressure and subsequently cause pollution and significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Huolin Xin of the University of California, Irvine, the recipient of the Outstanding Early-Career Investigator Award, presented on a catalyst design that could significantly improve the energy efficiency of nitrogen fixing. During his talk, he presented a catalyst which enables nitrogen’s conversion into ammonia at room temperature and atmospheric pressure.

This material, known as an atomically dispersed catalyst, consists of a single metal atom as an active site anchored to a supporting molecular frame. These catalysts are known for their design versatility—by swapping out one metal atom for another, they can synthesize a new catalyst. Xin’s award was for his development of innovative imaging methodologies for such materials. A physicist by training, Xin uses a transmission electron microscope to study the structure and distribution of the catalysts to verify their role in chemical reactions.

Xin’s catalyst for nitrogen fixing consisted of a molybdenum atom attached to nitrogen-doped porous carbon. With his imaging techniques, his group determined that the catalysts stay distributed after participating in nitrogen fixing. He pointed out that the structure borrows inspiration from the biological enzyme nitrogenase, produced by certain bacteria. “There’s a lot to learn from nature,” Xin said. His group is now studying the use of more types of metallic atoms other than molybdenum, for energy storage applications such as fuel cells and batteries.

Exemplary Postdocs

The Society awarded two MRS Postdoctoral Awards this year, to Yu Jun Tan of the National University of Singapore and to Yang Liu of The Pennsylvania State University.

Tan works on stretchable, self-healing materials for electronics. She presented a translucent, gelatinous conductive polymer material inspired by jellyfish. Her research team could tune the conductance of the material by adding ions to the gel. They could even use the material to make a soft, self-healing printed circuit board. Tan also presented a soft, light-emitting capacitor made of a polymer material that could heal itself.

Liu studies a class of materials known as ferroelectric polymers. These materials offer many useful properties as actuators, such as their low weight and low acoustic impedance compared to water. Researchers interested in applications ranging from medical to military technology want to enhance these materials’ piezoelectric response—the accumulation of charge in a region of the material in response to a force. Liu’s research team has found evidence of a transition region associated with piezoelectricity in the ferroelectric polymer known as a morphotropic phase boundary. Liu also presented about their characterized structure of a specific type of ferroelectric polymer known as relaxor ferroelectrics using x-ray diffraction, atomic force microscope infrared spectroscopy, and first-principles.

Innovation in Materials Characterization Award is endowed by Dr. Gwo-Ching Wang and Dr. Toh-Ming Lu; Mid-Career Researcher Award is endowed by MilliporeSigma; and the MRS Postdoctoral Award is supported by the Jiang Family Foundation and MTI Corporation.