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Chemist Peidong Yang wins NSF's Waterman Award

Peidong Yang
Peidong Yang

– The National Science Foundation (NSF) has chosen Peidong Yang, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, to receive the 2007 Alan T. Waterman award, an annual $500,000 prize that recognizes an outstanding young scientist who is revolutionizing research.

Yang, 36, a member of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Materials Sciences Division, is a nanotechnology pioneer who has driven research into nanowires - flexible strips one-thousandth the width of a human hair that show promise for a range of high-technology devices, ranging from tiny lasers and computer circuits to inexpensive solar panels and biological sensors.

Yang received the award during a ceremony yesterday (Monday, May 14) at the U.S. State Department.

The annual Waterman Award recognizes an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by NSF. As was the case with Yang, candidates may not be more than 35 years old when nominated, or seven years beyond receiving a doctorate, and must stand out for their individual achievements. In addition to the three-year grant for scientific research or advanced study in their field, the award is also accompanied by a medal.

Yang on the Waterman Award Video

(Video by Roxanne Makasdjian / Media Relations)

"Not only was Yang the first to grow fully crystalline inorganic nanotubes, but he continues to demonstrate such creative energy when exploring fundamental physical and chemical principles, such as the basic science needed to underpin transformative developments in fields ranging from sensors and molecular computers to biotechnology," said David Nelson, director of NSF's Solid-State Chemistry program and one of the officers for the foundation who has supported Yang's research.

In a relatively short time, Yang has created one of the nation's leading laboratories for the study of nanowires. Like nanotubes, nanowires are molecules-wide filaments with nearly miraculous properties. Unlike nanotubes, nanowires lack a hollow core and are proving generally easier to create and manipulate. Yang's research team has developed novel, efficient ways to create particularly sophisticated nanowires and complex nanowire arrays.

"As we were dealing with a new class of nanostructure, naturally there were many fundamental questions and challenges that needed to be addressed," said Yang, who also is co-principal investigator for the Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems (COINS) at UC Berkeley, one of NSF's Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers. "For example, how could we make them in a controlled manner? Do they have interesting chemical and physical properties? We are lucky that we are among the first few groups who started to address and answer some of these interesting questions."

By controlling the self-assembly of the wires and their orientation, Yang and his colleagues have created such devices as a wire only a hundred nanometers (billionths of a meter) wide that fires ultraviolet laser light; a patchwork of oriented nanowires that shows promise for shrinking the next generation of computer chips; and a nanowire array that has properties akin to solar panels, yet could potentially cost far less and is manufactured using an environmentally friendly process.

"Nanowires represent a rich family of functional materials," said Yang. "It is now possible to design and synthesize nanowires with quite complex structures based on progress made in the past couple of years. This type of control in nanostructural engineering has generated a rich collection of fascinating properties and functionalities, including nanoscale lasers, nanowire-based transistors, sensors and solar cells. These nanowire materials will have a particularly significant impact in areas such as energy conversion and solid state lighting."

Yang was born and raised in the Chinese city of Suzhou, leaving to study chemistry at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei in 1988. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1997, worked briefly at UC Santa Barbara as a post-doctoral fellow, and joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1999.

Yang has published widely and received such awards as the NSF Young Investigator Award, the Alfred P. Sloan research fellowship, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator Award, the Materials Research Society's Young Investigator Award, the Julius Springer Prize for Applied Physics and the American Chemical Society's Pure Chemistry Award.

Further information:

National Science Foundation press release