2024 O’Donnell Award in Physical Sciences: Shengqian Ma, Ph.D.

University of North Texas Nanoporous Materials Researcher Shengqian Ma, Ph.D., Recognized for Innovative Work in the Field of Decontamination

A worldwide leader in nanoporous materials research, Shengqian Ma, Ph.D., Professor and Welch Chair in Chemistry, the University of North Texas, is the recipient of the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Physical Sciences from TAMEST. He was chosen for his innovative work in the field of decontamination.

In a time of growing concern for the Earth and humanity’s ecosystem, Dr. Ma’s work could have an incredibly important impact on environmental and energy sustainability. His research was primarily inspired by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April of 2010, which caused extreme ecological disaster, piquing his interests in water-related research. He began to search for solutions to remove oil from the ocean, aiming first to understand this very complicated environment.

Dr. Ma’s most significant contributions come in his team’s development of porous organic polymer (POP)-based nanotraps. These nanotraps can be used for a variety of applications that more effectively and efficiently clean up after an oil spill, removing mercury from water and treating nuclear waste. Further, the materials can also be used to store gas molecules, like methane, hydrogen or carbon dioxide.

His materials not only trap the toxic things in water but can be used to trap useful things as well, like extracting uranium from seawater and lithium from brine water and utilizing them for energy. According to Dr. Ma, the uranium in the ocean alone could be used to provide electricity for human beings for over 20,000 years.

“Dr. Ma’s research is concentrated on figuring out how we can get the things we don’t want to be exposed to out of the environment,” said nominator Pamela Padilla, Ph.D., Vice President for Research and Innovation, University of North Texas. “I think he is creative and he’s a great mentor for his students. Dr. Ma’s work exudes enthusiasm and delivers results. He is highly regarded internationally within his field and there aren’t enough positive words for Dr. Ma and his work.”

Dr. Ma is one of five Texas-based researchers receiving the TAMEST 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards. Each are chosen for their individual contributions addressing the essential role that science and technology play in society, and whose work meets the highest standards of exemplary professional performance, creativity and resourcefulness.

Dr. Ma was recognized at the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, and gave a presentation on his research preceding the award ceremony at the TAMEST 2024 Annual Conference: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Austin, Texas, at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center.

About the O’Donnell Awards:

The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards annually recognize rising star Texas researchers who are addressing the essential role that science and technology play in society, and whose work meets the highest standards of exemplary professional performance, creativity and resourcefulness.

Thanks to a $1.15 million gift from the O’Donnell Foundation in 2022, the O’Donnell Awards have expanded to include an additional science award. The awards now recognize recipients in the categories of Medicine, Engineering, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences and Technology Innovation. (Previously, the TAMEST O’Donnell Awards rotated its science award between physical and biological sciences every year.)

The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards are made possible by the O’Donnell Awards Endowment Fund, established in 2005 through the generous support of several individuals and organizations. View a full list of supporters here.


TAMEST was co-founded in 2004 by the Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison and Nobel Laureates Michael S. Brown, M.D., and Richard E. Smalley, Ph.D. With more than 335 members and 22 member institutions, TAMEST is composed of the Texas-based members of the three National Academies (National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences), the Royal Society and the state’s eight Nobel Laureates. We bring together the state’s brightest minds in medicine, engineering, science and technology to foster collaboration, and to advance research, innovation and business in Texas.

TAMEST’s unique interdisciplinary model has become an effective recruitment tool for top research and development centers across Texas. Since our founding, more than 275 TAMEST members have been inducted into the National Academies or relocated to Texas.

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