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University of North Texas Professor Wins Prestigious O’Donnell Award in Physical Sciences

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DENTON, TX – Shengqian Ma, a distinguished professor at the University of North Texas (UNT), has been honored with the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Physical Sciences. The award, presented by the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology (TAMEST), recognizes Ma’s groundbreaking contributions to nanoporous materials research.

TAMEST, a renowned nonprofit scientific organization, focuses on fostering collaborative efforts across various disciplines in Texas. Ma, who holds the Welch Chair in UNT’s Department of Chemistry, is one of five Texas-based scientists to receive the prestigious O’Donnell Awards this year. He is notably the first from UNT to achieve this accolade, selected for his innovative approach in decontamination research and his commitment to addressing societal challenges through science and technology.

Ma’s research has been instrumental in tackling environmental issues, notably spurred by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. His work primarily revolves around developing solutions for water-related problems, including oil spill cleanup. His most notable achievement involves the creation of porous organic polymer-based nanotraps, which have wide-ranging applications from enhancing oil spill cleanups to removing harmful substances like mercury and treating nuclear waste. These materials also show promise in gas storage, including methane, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide.

Dr. Pamela Padilla, UNT’s vice president for research and innovation, praised Ma’s creativity and mentorship, emphasizing his international recognition in his field. Ma’s research extends beyond removing toxins from water; it also focuses on extracting valuable elements like uranium from seawater and lithium from brine water. These elements are vital for energy production, with Ma citing the potential of oceanic uranium to provide electricity for humanity for over 20,000 years.

Since the O’Donnell Awards’ inception in 2006, more than $1.5 million has been awarded to over 75 recipients in various scientific categories. The awards have been a stepping stone for many, with sixteen recipients later elected to national academies.

Oliver Mullins, a fellow with the National Academy of Engineering and the committee chair for the O’Donnell Awards, highlighted the significance of these awards in promoting interdisciplinary approaches and driving scientific innovation in Texas. The awards play a crucial role in bridging academia and industry, pushing forward research that benefits society at large.

Professor Ma’s achievement is a testament to the University of North Texas’s growing impact in scientific research and innovation, marking a significant milestone in the university’s history and in the field of environmental science and technology.

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