The White House honored campus professors Darleane Hoffman and Gabor Somorjai on Tuesday with the Enrico Fermi Presidential Award, one of the government’s “oldest and prestigious” awards.
Both long-standing members of the UC Berkeley academic community were awarded for their “excellence in research in energy science and technology benefiting humanity,” said the White House statement.
“Prof. Hoffmann and and Prof. Somorjai have made foundational discoveries that have helped to build the Chemistry Department we have today,” said campus College of Chemistry Chair Matthew Francis in an email. “We are very proud of their research legacies, and we are thrilled they are receiving this once-in-a-lifetime achievement award.”
Polly Arnold, professor of chemistry on campus and director of the chemical sciences division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab, expressed her excitement about the recognition, but is not surprised considering Hoffman’s extensive contributions to chemistry.
Darleane Hoffman came to Berkeley in 1984, where she worked extensively for the Department of Chemistry and Berkeley Lab. Hoffman was among the group of researchers who confirmed the discovery of the element Seaborgium 106. She is also recognized for her service in the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, and advancing the field of nuclear and radiochemistry.
Arnold said Hoffman has always been a “huge role model” for both Berkeley Lab and chemists overall.
“Her work to study the chemistry on the nuclear process of transuranium elements that she did here was just phenomenal, especially considering the times working as a woman in science,” Arnold said.
Garbo Somorjai received his PhD in chemistry at UC Berkeley and continued on to join the faculty by working as a faculty scientist for Berkeley Lab. Somorjai is recognized for his research advancing the study of surface chemistry and his leadership in understanding catalysis.
John Hartwig, Henry Rapport chair and campus professor of chemistry, said he was “pleased” to hear about the honors given the depth of Somorjai’s research.
“Somorjai is someone who has been a real leader of many fields,” Hartwig said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone who is as passionate about science and enjoys science and the scientific enterprise as much as Somorjai, so for him to be recognized in this way just makes me happy.”
Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, director of the Office of Science at the DOE and campus alumnus, lauded their research as critical to the department and highlighted their work to not only advance but ensure the future of science.
“Notably both of these world-leading scientists are also strongly committed to training the next generation of scientists — scientists who are now leaders in academia, industry, and the federal government,” Berhe said in an email.