Cockrell School of Engineering professor Guihua Yu, a materials scientist and engineer in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering and in UT’s Texas Materials Institute and Energy Institute, has received the 2022 Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research from The Welch Foundation

He is being honored for his pioneering work in nanomaterials science that will have far-reaching applications in renewable energy and environmental and water sustainability.

The Hackerman Award recognizes “rising stars” in chemical research who have contributed significant scientific discoveries at early stages of their careers. Yu is one of two Hackerman Award recipients this year, being joined by Ryan Hibbs, an associate professor of neuroscience and biophysics at UT Southwestern who is honored for his work on the structural and biophysical basis of neurotransmitter and drug actions within the brain. This marks the second time in the 21 years of the Hackerman Award that two recipients have been honored.

“We are delighted to independently recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of Dr. Hibbs and Dr. Yu,” said Douglas L. Foshee, director and chair of The Welch Foundation. “They have so much of their careers ahead of them and we look forward to following and benefitting from their successes and discoveries in the years to come.”

Since becoming an associate professor, Yu has focused his research on functional polymer nanostructures with tunable chemical and physical interfaces and properties, with applications in energy and environmental science. Yu and his team have developed a jelly-like hydrogel with unprecedented electronic conductivity capabilities. This new technology has significant potential applications for a range of technologies, including ones that will lessen our environmental impact.

“Dr. Yu has emerged as an influential leader in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology,” said Catherine J. Murphy, chair of The Welch Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board. “His innovative and wide-ranging research makes him an ideal recipient of the Hackerman Award. The depth of his work to address grand energy and environmental challenges is exceptional.”

Yu has received many international and national awards and honors, including the Blavatnik National Awards Honoree, the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award from TAMEST, the TMS Brimacombe Medalist Award, the IAAM Medal Award, the Polymer International – IUPAC Award for Creativity in Applied Polymer Science and the Outstanding Young Scientist by World Laureates Forum, among many other accolades. He has published over 230 papers in many prominent scientific journals, including Science, Nature, Nature Reviews Materials, Nature Materials and Nature Nanotechnology.

One of Yu’s most recent discoveries was a new method for making urea, a critical element found in everything from fertilizers to skin care products, that is more environmentally friendly than the current process and produces enough to be competitive with energy-intensive industrial methods.

The Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research was established by The Welch Foundation to honor Norman Hackerman, its Scientific Advisory Board chair from 1982 to 2006. The award recognizes the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers. It is designed to encourage young scientists who are embarking on careers dedicated to increasing our fundamental understanding of chemistry. Upon accepting the award, Yu and Hibbs will each receive $100,000, as well as a crystal sculpture to commemorate the occasion.