By Wileen Wong Kromhout

Yu Huang, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been named a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor given by the United States government to young engineers and scientists at the outset of their professional careers.

Huang, whose research interest centers on the interface of functional nanosystems and biosystems, was nominated for the award by the Department of Defense’s Army Research Office for her work on the biomolecule-regulated synthesis and assembly of nanocatalysts for artificial photosynthesis systems, which could one day lead to solutions in renewable clean energy.

At the heart of the artificial photosynthesis process, Huang said, is photocatalytic water splitting, in which solar energy is used to split water and produce hydrogen fuel. Huang’s group is developing highly active and selective nanocatalysts for this purpose.

“It’s usually very difficult for young faculty to explore new areas of research. It is a great honor to be recognized with the PECASE,” said Huang, who was awarded $1 million in support of her work for the next five years. “Now our research group can take a significant step toward addressing the increasing challenges related to global warming.”

Huang is among this year’s 100 recipients, who will be invited to participate in a special White House ceremony in the fall. She is also one of four UCLA Engineering faculty members to have received the PECASE in the last five years.

“We are extremely proud of Yu and her research accomplishments,” said Vijay K. Dhir, dean of UCLA Engineering. “We take great pride in knowing that her work in nanoscale technology will contribute to the important area of renewable energy, and it is gratifying to see one of our faculty recognized at a national level once again.”

The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, established in 1996, embody the high priority the White House places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the nation’s goals and contribute to all sectors of the economy. Each year, nine federal departments and agencies nominate scientists and engineers who are in the early stages of their independent careers and whose work shows exceptional promise for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge. Participating agencies award these talented scientist and engineers with up to five years of funding to further their research in support of critical government missions.