O'Donnell Award in Physical Sciences Recipients Header

About the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Physical Sciences

The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards were established in 2006. They are named in honor of Edith and Peter O’Donnell, who were among Texas’ most devoted advocates for excellence in scientific advancement and STEM education. The awards 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.

The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Physical Sciences honors Texas researchers at academic institutions with a focus in the physical sciences with a $25,000 honorarium, profile video and an invitation to present their research at the TAMEST Annual Conference.

Thanks to a $1.15 million gift from the O’Donnell Foundation in 2022, the O’Donnell Awards were expanded to include an additional science award so that awards could be given each year in both Biological and Physical Sciences categories. Previously, the science award alternated between biological sciences and physical sciences annually.

Most Recent Physical Sciences Recipient

2024 O'Donnell Award Physical Sciences Recipient Shengqian Ma

Shengqian Ma, Ph.D., University of North Texas, is the 2024 recipient of the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Physical Sciences. 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.

Learn More about Dr. Ma and His Work >
Watch Dr. Ma’s Award Acceptance >

Past Physical Sciences Recipients

Erez Lieberman Aiden, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine | 2023
For dramatically impacting the understanding of genomic 3D structures and the role and processes of the human genome.
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Sarbajit Banerjee, Ph.D., Texas A&M University | 2022
For his utilization of solid-state chemistry and materials science to impact the future of new technologies in energy conversion, energy storage, computing and even artificial intelligence.
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Watch Dr. Banerjee’s Award Acceptance >

Alessandra Corsi, Ph.D., Texas Tech University | 2020
For her paradigm-shifting research on the merger of stars and black holes. Dr. Corsi uncovered a “multisensory” exploration process of our universe, where gravitational waves tell part of the story and light then completes it.
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Watch Dr. Corsi’s Award Acceptance >

Xiaoqin Elaine Li, Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin | 2018
For her research focus on the interaction of light and matter at the nanoscale in quantum materials. Her innovative work has helped create and control materials that can emit one photon at a time.
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Watch Dr. Li’s Award Acceptance >

Alessio Figalli, Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin | 2016
For tackling questions of optimization related to the most economical way to transport and distribute goods or resources. Recently, his work has been applied in meteorology to describe how clouds evolve over time, a discovery that contributes to better models of complex climate phenomena.
Learn More >
Watch Dr. Figalli’s Award Acceptance >

Zhifeng Ren, Ph.D., University of Houston | 2014
For seminal contributions to five scientific fields: carbon nanotubes, thermoelectrics, zinc oxide nanowires, high temperature superconductivity and molecule delivery/sensing.
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Watch Dr. Ren’s Award Acceptance >

Karl Gebhardt, Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin | 2012
For the discovery that the masses of the central black hole and the inner regions of a galaxy are correlated.
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Paul S. Cremer, Ph.D., Texas A&M University | 2010
For his work including a fundamental understanding of protein adsorption, multivalent binding on lipid membranes, and more.
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Edward M. Marcotte, Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin | 2008
For exceptional contributions to functional genomics and proteomics.
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Michael Rosen, Ph.D. (NAS), UT Southwestern Medical Center | 2006
For researching how cells maintain their shape as they move through the body, which could have implications in development of drugs that alter the behavior of abnormal cells.
National Academy of Sciences: 2020
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