U of M Professors receive 2014 Cozzarelli Prize

Regents Professor Frank S. Bates and Distinguished McKnight University Professor Chris Leighton, both faculty members in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Minnesota, and Sangwoo Lee, a former post-doctoral fellow and doctoral student in the Department, have been awarded a 2014 Cozzarelli Prize from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The Cozarelli Prize, established in 2005 and named in 2007 to honor late PNAS Editor-in-Chief Nicholas R. Cozzarelli, recognizes six recently published PNAS papers of outstanding scientific excellence and originality each year. Papers selected were chosen from more than 3,500 research articles that appeared in the journal last year.

“This is an honor that really highlights the impact of the inter-disciplinary work that we are able to perform at the University of Minnesota,” said Leighton. “Providing the opportunity for people with such diverse backgrounds and expertise to collaborate is a strength of our program that we are very proud of.”

Their research, “Sphericity and symmetry breaking in the formation of Frank-Kasper phases from one component materials,” deals with the structures that form when long chain molecules known as block polymers assemble into nearly spherical nanoscale particles that organize into a variety of three-dimensional patterns, typically in highly symmetric ways.

The work by Lee, Leighton and Bates shows that the resulting structures are close to what are termed quasicrystals, a state of matter discovered just 30 years ago. This process of forming low symmetry structures by maximizing what is termed sphericity turns out to also play a role in the atomic structure of certain elemental metals and numerous metal alloys. The team thus uncovered a surprising fundamental connection between apparently disparate materials – plastics and metals. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

 “The Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Department is a unique environment, one that fosters the simultaneous pursuit of basic knowledge while addressing problems that impact society in practical ways,” said Bates. “This work advances both goals along with fulfilling our responsibility to provide our students with the best education and training available in the nation.”    

The Cozzarelli Prize is awarded in six different categories including Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering and Applied Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Applied Biological, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The award will be formally recognized at the PNAS Editorial Board Meeting and the National Academy of Sciences Awards Ceremony on April 26th in Washington DC. 

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