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Texas Engineer Wins Presidential Early Career Award

deji akinwande

Cockrell School associate professor Deji Akinwande and UT Austin College of Natural Sciences assistant professor Keji Lai have been selected to receive Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the United States government’s highest honor for scientists and engineers in the early stages of research.

They are among 106 recipients announced by the White House on Thursday. The winners, who will be honored at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., this spring, were selected for having research that is both innovative and beneficial to society.

Deji Akinwande, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is known for his groundbreaking research on nanomaterials, sensors, devices and flexible technology. He is considered one of the top researchers in the world in the areas of graphene, silicon electronics and 2-D nanomaterials for use in flexible electronics. In 2015, Akinwande created the first transistor out of silicene, the world’s thinnest silicon material, and he is continuing to advance the capabilities of computer chips and other electronics.

Keji Lai, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics in the College of Natural Sciences, researches nanoscale electronic properties in advanced quantum materials such as transition metal oxides, topological matters and organic semiconductors. His work has applications for energy-harvesting devices, photonics and electronics, and it has been noted for its potential to significantly advance future computing devices. Lai pioneered the development of a commercially available microwave imaging technique.

“These early-career scientists are leading the way in our efforts to confront and understand challenges from climate change to our health and wellness,” President Barack Obama said. “We congratulate these accomplished individuals and encourage them to continue to serve as an example of the incredible promise and ingenuity of the American people.”

Now in its 20th year, the Presidential Early Career Awards are coordinated through the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, which selects winners “for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.”

Akinwande was nominated by the Department of Defense and Lai by the Department of Energy for their research accomplishments.