MacArthur ‘genius grant’ awarded to McCormick researcher

Mark Hersam

Mark Hersam

Jeanne Kuang, Campus Editor

McCormick Prof. Mark Hersam has received a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” for his research in nanomaterials, the organization announced Wednesday.

The prestigious five-year grant of $625,000 is given “no strings attached” every year to a handful of MacArthur Fellows selected by the foundation to continue their artistic, intellectual or professional work.

“My initial reaction was, I thought it was a joke,” Hersam, one of 21 people to win the award this year, said. “As time goes on I’ve of course recognized the tremendous honor and opportunity. We can have significant freedom in our research and that will allow us to be as creative as possible.”

Hersam, director of Northwestern’s Materials Research Center, runs a lab that studies and develops ways to produce nanomaterials, materials that exist in nanometer lengths. The materials are often used in electronic devices and in solar cells.

In a statement Wednesday, the foundation described Hersam’s work as “bridging the gap between theory and application.”

Hersam said the grant allows his lab, which has primarily focused on carbon materials such as carbon nanotubes and graphene, to “diversify and look for new elements or compounds with properties that are even better than what we achieved with carbon.”

He said he is particularly interested in nanomaterials with electronic properties that can be used in computers or smartphones and in nanomaterials with optical properties that can be used in solar cells or display screens.

Hersam is the second NU professor in two years to get the grant. History Prof. Dylan Penningroth received the grant in 2012 for his research on slave-owned property in the Civil War South.

Author Karen Russell (Weinberg ’03) won the genius grant last year for fiction writing.

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