2 campus researchers to receive nation’s highest honors in science, technology

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The White House announced Tuesday that two UC Berkeley faculty members will each receive one of the nation’s highest honors in science and technology.

Paul Alivisatos, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a campus professor of chemistry, has been named one of nine recipients of the National Medal of Science. Chenming Hu, professor emeritus of electrical engineering and computer sciences, is one among eight recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

“Science and technology are fundamental to solving some of our nation’s biggest challenges,” President Barack Obama said, according to a White House press release. “The knowledge produced by these Americans today will carry our country’s legacy of innovation forward and continue to help countless others around the world. Their work is a testament to American ingenuity.”

Alivisatos’ area of study concerns synthesizing nanocrystals. Additionally, he works to characterize  — “figuring out what they are like in terms of their electronic properties” — and apply nanocrystals, according to campus physics professor Marvin Cohen.  The structure of nanocrystals is useful in solar and medical applications, such as solar cells and biomedical imaging.

This prestigious award is a timely recognition of (Alivisatos’) prominent status as one of the pioneers, founding fathers and most influential researchers in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology,” said Junqiao Wu, campus professor in the department of materials science and engineering, in an email.

The National Medal of Science is administered by the National Science Foundation. Recipients of the award are determined by a scientifically knowledgeable committee of presidential appointees, according to the press release.

The recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, however, are recommended by an independent committee of public and private sector representatives.

Hu is known for his technological innovations, particularly for co-inventing the FinFET, which is a type of field-effect transistor. The transistor is the main type used in many big-name microprocessors and mobile processor chips. Transistors act as a “switch” on the electrical current running through integrated circuits, according to Tsu-Jae King Liu, chair of the EECS department, in an email.

According to Ali Javey, campus EECS professor, traditional transistors have been planar. Hu’s work in the late 1990s, however, allowed transistors to take on a three-dimensional shape.

(The award) recognizes Dr. Hu for multiple achievements during his career which have allowed the semiconductor industry to produce smaller yet more reliable and higher-performing integrated circuits (ICs),” King Liu said in an email.

Hu is the second faculty member to receive the National Medal of Technology and Innovation since the award’s establishment in 1980. The award is administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Patent and Trademark Office.

Alivisatos and Hu will be presented with the medals in a White House ceremony early next year.

Ericka Shin covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ericka_shin.