TAMEST 2021 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards

2018 O'Donnell Awards

Opening up new types of treatment for addiction and eating disorders. Utilizing nanotechnology to provide solutions for water sustainability and energy storage. Discovering the links between cellular pathways and cancerous cell growth. Understanding how soil and nature can help reduce our carbon footprint.

These are the discoveries by Texas’ rising stars in research being honored with the 2021 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards by TAMEST (The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas):

Medicine: Benjamin Arenkiel, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine
Engineering: Guihua Yu, Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin
Science: Benjamin Tu, Ph.D., UT Southwestern Medical Center
Technology Innovation: Christian A. Davies, Ph.D., Shell

“The TAMEST Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards highlight the groundbreaking research taking place in Texas,” said David E. Daniel, Ph.D. (NAE), 2021 TAMEST Board President. “The discoveries by these researchers are advancing science and will transform lives. TAMEST is proud to celebrate these researchers for their achievements.”

The recipients were honored on Wednesday, January 13, at 4 p.m. CT at the 2021 O’Donnell Awards virtual ceremony. The recipients will also give individual research presentations in the weeks following the ceremony. Click here for dates and times for those sessions.

Learn more about our 2021 O’Donnell Awards recipients:


“The brilliance in Dr. Arenkiel’s discoveries is his framework for understanding the neural pathways in the brain and the opportunity to make a really big difference by focusing on manipulating and bypassing altered circuits, which could make up for their deficiencies in addiction, anxiety and many other neuropsychiatric disorders.”

Huda Y. Zoghbi, M.D. (NAM, NAS), Professor of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine and Director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital

Benjamin Arenkiel, Ph.D.

Baylor College of Medicine Neuroscientist and Geneticist Benjamin Arenkiel, Ph.D., is the recipient of the 2021 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine from TAMEST. He was chosen for his breakthrough identification of the brain’s neural pathways that are connected to eating disorders, addiction and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

By understanding the makeup of neural circuits and how they talk to each other, Dr. Arenkiel’s team identified a convergent brain circuit that combines sensory perceptions and motivational state. They found that when basal forebrain circuits are disrupted, it leads to behaviors ranging from anxiety, anorexia, addiction and more.

Learn more about Dr. Arenkiel and his research >

Watch Dr. Arenkiel’s research presentation >


“His ability to take advances in the structures of materials to give higher performance is helping us to see a greener energy future where smaller devices and earth-abundant materials could greatly improve batteries, and solar technology can produce water out of thin air to bring farming capabilities to areas not previously possible.”

Keith P. Johnston, Ph.D. (NAE), Claire and Peter Buenz Endowed Chair in Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin

Guihua Yu, Ph.D.

Guihua Yu, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, is the recipient of the TAMEST 2021 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Engineering. He was chosen for his revolutionary use of nanotechnology and conductive polymer-hydrogels to provide solutions to two of society’s biggest challenges: water sustainability and energy storage.

Dr. Yu’s approach of looking at organic nanomaterials and understanding structures down to their smallest scale has led to the creation of new multifunctional polymeric nanostructures and hybrid organic-inorganic nanomaterials with unique physical properties that improve efficiency and function.

Learn more about Dr. Yu and his research >

Watch Dr. Yu’s research presentation >


“Dr. Tu is like a detective. He is really excellent at figuring out the nuts and bolts of how cells work, how they function and how they are regulated.”

Margaret Phillips, Ph.D., Professor and Sam G. Winstead and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center

Benjamin Tu, Ph.D.

UT Southwestern Biochemist Benjamin Tu, Ph.D., is the recipient of the 2021 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Science from TAMEST. He was chosen for his pioneering research on cellular roles of small molecule metabolites that may have relevance for cancer treatments and other diseases.

Dr. Tu’s approach to studying yeast to reveal conserved behavior in mammalian cells has led to the discovery of a unique pathway supporting the survival and growth of cancerous cells. By understanding how the pathway works in the mammalian cells, Dr. Tu was able to block the nutrient pathway feeding cancerous cell growth.

Technology Innovation

“Dr. Davies’ work to develop the fundamental science behind how we can enhance soil to reduce emissions has set the groundwork for a number of innovative techniques that will help set future energy solutions.”

Selda Gunsel, Ph.D. (NAE), Shell’s Vice President of Global Commercial and Fuels Technology

Christian A. Davies, Ph.D.

Shell Scientist Christian A. Davies, Ph.D., has been named the recipient of the 2021 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Technology Innovation from TAMEST. He was chosen for his development of a broad suite of alternative carbon management technologies to reduce emissions for a lower carbon future.

A globally recognized expert in soil carbon bioscience, Dr. Davies serves as the Principal Science Expert for Shell’s Nature Based Solutions team. This team undertakes projects aimed at protecting, transforming and restoring natural ecosystems, such as forests, grasslands and wetlands, while offering carbon neutral energy solutions to a growing number of customers.

Dr. Davies’ method of combining DNA sequencing techniques to analyze microbes in soil with net carbon flux and novel soil carbon measurement technologies are shining light on the role that microbes play in carbon storage in soil, potentially leading to more storage capacity for carbon dioxide (CO2) in soil.

Learn more about Dr. Davies and his research >

Watch Dr. Davies’ research presentation >


TAMEST News and Updates

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.