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Co-director of Philomathia-funded program recognized with “genius” grant

The word ‘genius’ is not a word to be thrown about lightly. But recently, cutting-edge research taking place in a Philomathia-funded program was recognized as exactly that.

In September, 2015, Dr. Peidong Yang, a co-director of Kavli ENSI at UC Berkeley, was named as a “genius” fellow by the MacArthur Foundation for his work in nanowire photonics.

Dr. Yang has made several breakthroughs over the years that have driven innovation in his field forward, and may have implications for the future of carbon-neutral, sustainable fuel systems. His general area of research is semiconductor nanowires, and focuses on creating artificial photosynthesis; the same process used by nature to store solar energy and convert it to chemical energy.

“In nature, green leaves basically take in C02 [carbon dioxide], absorb sunlight, and do the photosynthesis, so that they can convert that C02 into very useful chemical compounds – and release oxygen back into the environment,” Dr. Yang told the MacArthur Foundation website (video below). “That’s the process we want to mimic using a unique type of nanostructure, [which] nowadays, we can make in a lab.”

As a result of the recognition he is receiving, Dr. Yang will be awarded $625,000 from the MacArthur Foundation to put towards his ongoing research in any way he sees fit.

“This award is recognition of our past 16 years of efforts in the semiconductor nanowire field,” he told the Berkeley News. “But it’s also a big encouragement and more freedom to pursue the solar-to-chemical conversion project,”

Nanoscience is a burgeoning field that, quite likely, holds innovative answers to energy science challenges that we will face as a society moving forward.

Dr. Yang’s research is at the absolute forefront of that research and innovation.

A Scientific Breakthrough

“This is the first time anyone has really put together a functional system that can do the job of a synthetic leaf,” Dr. Yang told the Berkeley News. “Every carbon is recycled: You use the artificial photosynthesis system to produce the fuel, burn it, capture it and convert it back to fuel again, so there will be no net CO2 emissions if this technology is ultimately implemented.”

In 2014, the Philomathia Foundation established an Innovation Fund to help establish the Kavli Energy NanoScinece Institute (ENSI) at Berkeley. ENSI is one of sixteen global Kavli Institutes and focuses on the understanding and development of artificial and biological energy systems at a nanoscale.

This mandate aligns perfectly with the overall mission of the Philomathia Foundation: to promote human harmony and wellbeing through advocacy for, and support of, education and research – in particular, the exploration of new ideas in science, technology, the humanities and philosophy.

And Dr. Yang’s work is exemplary of the big-picture, innovative scientific research that the Kavli ENSI was constructed to promote.

“One day, I want to see my basic research fundamentally change the way people live in the future,” he told the LA Times.

The Philomathia Foundation extends its warmest congratulations to Dr. Yang on this prestigious honour and recognition.