Two Clark School Faculty Named Finalists of Prestigious Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists

news story image

Mohammad Hafezi and Liangbing Hu.

Two faculty members from the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering have been named Finalists of the 2019 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists in the Physical Sciences & Engineering category by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences.

Mohammad Hafezi and Liangbing Hu are among 31 of the nation’s rising stars in science who will compete for three Blavatnik National Laureate Awards in the categories of Chemistry, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Life Sciences; they are two of 10 Finalists in Physical Sciences & Engineering. Each of the three 2019 National Laureates will win $250,000—the world’s largest unrestricted prize for early-career scientists.

"While still early-career researchers, both Drs. Mohammad Hafezi and Liangbing Hu have played substantive roles in shaping the direction and discovery of quantum processing and sensing and emerging nanomaterials, respectively," said Darryll Pines, Dean and Farvardin Professor of the A. James Clark School of Engineering. "We are proud that the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences are honoring the emerging and groundbreaking talent of these A. James Clark School of Engineering researchers."

Now in its 13th year, the Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists recognize the past accomplishments and the future promise of the most talented faculty-rank scientists and engineers aged 42 years and younger at America’s top academic and research institutions. This year, the Blavatnik National Awards received an unprecedented 343 nominations from 169 academic and research centers across 44 states—a record in all three categories. The three 2019 National Laureates, chosen from the 31 Finalists, will be announced June 26.

Inspired by the concept of topology in mathematics and its prevalence in electronic quantum materials, Hafezi’s innovative work has addressed a critical problem of inevitable nanofabrication defects. These imperfections have plagued the reliability and performance of optical devices in nanophotonics and quantum optics for years. Through his work, Hafezi has shown that, like electrons, photons under a given set of conditions can also be made insensitive to both the shape and defects in an optical device. This discovery has garnered immense interest in the optics community and spurred a new field of topological photonics. Hafezi is an associate professor with affiliations in UMD’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Department of PhysicsJoint Quantum Institute, and Institute for Research in Electronics & Applied Physics.

Hu, a materials scientist and self-described wood nanotechnologist, explores the use of wood-derived nanocellulose—the most abundant biomaterial on Earth—as a solution to environmental sustainability challenges in energy and water. His work has led to the development of a unique processing procedure that can transform wood into a material that is as strong as steel but six times lighter. He has also developed transparent wood composites as a replacement for glass, photonic paper for future electronics display technologies, and a host of other wood-derived technologies ranging from batteries to water desalination and green building insulations. Hu is an associate professor with affiliations in UMD’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Maryland Energy Innovation Institute.

Ellis Rubinstein, president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences and chair of the Awards’ Scientific Advisory Council, said, "The 2019 Blavatnik National Awards Finalists are part of a growing global community of inventive thinkers and rare problem solvers that will help define the future. These 31 Finalists are a diverse group of scientists and engineers who are paving the way for new methodologies and ideas that will impact the world on a macro and micro scale. From preserving endangered animal species and reducing our carbon footprint to designing new sustainable materials and therapeutics, their research is forward-thinking and groundbreaking."

The 2019 Blavatnik National Laureates and Finalists will be honored at the Blavatnik National Awards ceremony on Monday, September 23, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, established by the Blavatnik Family Foundation in the United States in 2007 and administered by the New York Academy of Sciences, began by identifying outstanding regional scientific talent in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The Blavatnik National Awards were launched in 2014 and, in 2017, the Awards were expanded to young scientists in the United Kingdom and Israel. By the close of 2019, the Blavatnik Awards will have conferred prizes totaling over $8.4 million to 285 outstanding young scientists and engineers from more than 44 countries, representing 35 scientific and engineering disciplines.

The A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland serves as the catalyst for high-quality research, innovation, and learning, delivering on a promise that all graduates will leave ready to impact the Grand Challenges (energy, environment, security, and human health) of the 21st century. The Clark School is dedicated to leading and transforming the engineering discipline and profession, to accelerating entrepreneurship, and to transforming research and learning activities into new innovations that benefit millions. Visit us online at and follow us on Twitter @ClarkSchool.

To follow the progress of the Blavatnik Awards, visit or follow along on Facebook and Twitter (@BlavatnikAwards).

Published May 29, 2019