ASPIRE Prize recognizes young scientists for “new materials technologies”

Prof. Yanwu Zhu of Heifei, China, wins the 2017 APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education for his pioneering work in new carbon materials

ASPIRE PRIZE winner Dr. Yanwu Zhu (center, holding award) with APEC leaders and sponsors, from left: Dr. Brad Fenwick, Elsevier; Lisa Brodey, Acting Chair of PPSTI, US State Department; HE Tran Quic Khanh, Deputy Minister of the Vietnam Ministry of Science and Technology; Dr. Zhu; Chen Linhao, co-chair of PPSTI, China Ministry of Science and Technology; Susan Sutton, Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy in Vietnam; Andrew Tein, Wiley (co-sponsor of ASPIRE); Lê Thị Việt Lâm, co-chair of PPSTI, Vietnam Ministry of Science and Technology; and Dr. Teatulohi Mataina, Papua New Guinea Science & Technology Council.

Innovation in material technology is crucial to scientific advancement and solving many of the world’s challenges. These advanced materials stand to radically boost next-generation manufacturing and quality of life.

Yanwu Zhu, PhDThe winner of the 2017 APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education (“ASPIRE”) is a pioneer in this realm. Dr. Yanwu Zhu, a professor at the University of Science and Technology of China in Heifei, was recognized for his work in the field of nanomaterials, specifically new carbon materials. His work has been cited more than 18,000 times, and most of his achievements involved cooperation with researchers from other APEC economies.

Dr. Zhu received a cash prize of $25,000 provided by sponsors Elsevier and Wiley at an event Friday in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“Every day, electronics become increasingly integrated into our daily lives, and Dr. Zhu’s cutting-edge research shows potential to revolutionize the use and adaptability of these key technologies for the future,” said Elsevier Chairman Youngsuk “YS” Chi. “We congratulate all the outstanding young scientists that were nominated this year and look forward to seeing how their research will contribute to tomorrow’s advances in the broad and exciting field of new material technologies.”

ASPIRE is an annual award that recognizes outstanding research by scientists under age 40. This year’s theme – chosen by Vietnam, the host APEC economy – was “New Material Technologies,” focusing on how advanced materials are driving scientific innovation. Materials like these can reinvigorate production and supply chains, including the growing numbers of small businesses that underpin them, leading to new and improved goods and services. And some, like those developed by this year’s winner, could lead to advances in sustainable development.

Research could lead to better energy storage

Dr. Zhu helped develop a hotplate technique that leads to nanostructures with superior field emission properties, ultrafast optical switching behavior, and other applications. Dr. Zhu and colleagues performed one of the earliest demonstrations using graphene materials for supercapacitors, which could lead to the development of graphene materials for energy storage. In 2011, Dr. Zhu developed a method of activating graphene powders with KOH, which created novel 3D carbon with superior energy storage performances. This accomplishment has the potential to lead to a new carbon family.

“Many scientific challenges such as energy and food security, environmental protection and public health are perpetuated by the limits of known materials,” stated Christin Kjelland, Chair of the APEC Policy Partnership for Science, Technology, and Innovation, which administers the annual ASPIRE Prize, in the press release.

“We wanted to learn from those who are making the impossible possible to ensure economic and social progress in APEC and beyond,” added Kjelland, who also serves in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs in the US State Department.

Dr. Brad Fenwick, Elsevier’s Senior VP for Global Strategic Alliances, said Elsevier’s support for APEC goes deeper than the sponsorship of the ASPIRE prize: “Elsevier is proud to partner with APEC to support sustainable growth and prosperity in Asia Pacific. And we’re committed to providing innovative tools to support these talented young researchers and others in the research community who are on the cusp of the next great discovery.”

Each member economy is invited to nominate one scientist for award consideration. These young scientists must demonstrate a commitment to both excellence in scientific research and cooperation with scientists from other APEC member economies.

The 2017 ASPIRE Nominees

This year, ASPIRE received 17 young scientists as nominees — the highest number since the award was founded in 2011. Nominated by the 17 APEC economies, they have impressive backgrounds and research in a wide range of disciplines that contribute to the ASPIRE theme of new material technologies.


Dr. Dayong Jin, ARC Future Fellow, Director, ARC Industry Transformational Research Hub for Integrated Device for End-user Analysis at Low-levels, and Distinguished Professor at the Institute of Biomedical Materials & Devices, the University of Technology Sydney, is trained as an optoelectronics engineer. He develops new materials into high value molecular sensors that enable time-resolved optical instruments to find disease cells earlier, quicker and with better resolution. His approaches, co-developed with his U.S. based collaborators, have become the international standard for background-free imaging

Brunei Darussalam

Dr. Ying Woan (Yvonne) Soon of Universiti Brunei Darussalam works in the field of organic solar cells, which is a promising low cost technology for solar energy conversion. Her study mainly uses a novel donor-acceptor type of conjugated polymers as the light absorbing nano layer thin film. The aim of her study is to establish relationships between material design and device performance as well as stability, since these polymers have great synthesis flexibility to tune optical and electrical properties.


Dr. Zachary Hudson, Assistant Professor and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Chemistry at the University of British Columbia, focuses on the development of photonic and electronic materials to address issues of sustainability in chemistry and materials science. His research team synthesizes new molecular and polymeric materials for applications in sensing, printed electronics, and efficient solid-state lighting. The group also explores the synthesis of functional nanostructures from soft materials, their self-assembly into complex architectures, and their emerging applications in nanoscale electronics.


Dr. Juan Eduardo Escrig Murua, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Santiago, is a pioneer in magnetic nanotubes. His research in the area of nanomagnetism focused on the dipolar interaction between micro and nanometric magnetic systems. His research at the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics (Germany) on magnetization reversal processes and hysteresis curves of magnetic nanowires and nanotubes focused on developing several new methods, one of which is now used by several groups around the world.

People’s Republic of China

Dr. Yanwu Zhu, Professor at the University of Science and Technology of China, conducts research in the fields of nanomaterials and specifically new carbon materials. His research has included such topics as hotplate growth and field emission properties of metal oxide nanostructures, large-scale preparation of graphene materials for energy conversion and storage, and the synthesis of novel three-dimensional (3D) carbons.

Hong Kong, China

Dr. Anderson Shum, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Medical Engineering Program at the University of Hong Kong, conducts research in new material development technologies. His research has had significant impacts in biomedical, food and other applications. His works have led to commercial success in cosmetic industries and his inventions are licensed to companies working on materials. Examples of his work include developing the next-generation diagnostics-on-a-chip system using microfluidics with Shenzhen University and studying formation of mesoscaled particles with Sichuan University.


Dr. Shuhei Furukawa, Associate Professor at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (WPI-iCeMS) at Kyoto University, specializes in materials chemistry. His research in the last decade has established the so-called “Mesoscopic Coordination Chemistry” research field, in particular, using porous coordination polymers/metal-organic frameworks (PCPs/MOFs), a new class of porous materials, in which metal ions/clusters are coordinately linked by organic spokes to form crystalline framework structures with intrinsic permanent porosity. His research focuses on the development of new synthetic technologies of PCPs/MOFs in the meso-scale (5-1000 nm) and the understanding of their unique properties. The resulting new porous materials are further considered for microenvironmental applications, such as electronics for molecular sensing and delivering molecules to cells.

Republic of Korea

Dr. Min-Wook Oh, Assistant Professor in the Department of Advanced Materials Engineering at Hanbat National University, focuses on thermoelectric materials and devices and computational materials simulations. Dr. Oh’s research in the past decade has developed new thermoelectric and energy-related materials and improved the world’s understanding of electrical, thermal, and thermoelectric properties at the level of materials, devices, and whole system. His main scientific research focuses on thermoelectric materials which has potential in waste heat recovery to produce electricity. He has developed novel thermoelectric materials: silicides, chalcogenides, skutterudites, half heusler alloys, and clathlates compounds, and thermoelectric devices with new architecture in shape, properties, and function.


Dr. Othman Mohd Hafiz Dzarfan, Associate Professor, Department of Energy Engineering, Deputy Director of the Advanced Membrane Technology Research Centre at the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, focuses on membrane technology. His work lies in the field of sustainable ceramic/polymeric membrane for energy generation, carbon capture, and water reclamation. His research team has successfully developed a novel photcatalytic membrane for the treatment of recalcitrant organic pollutants in water as well as an economical fuel cell for efficient electricity generation.

New Zealand

Dr. Justin Hodgkiss, Associate Professor, Deputy Director and Principal Investigator, MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, Victoria University of Wellington, is a leading figure in the development of next generation solar photovoltaic technologies. These new organic polymer-based materials promise low-cost, large-scale manufacturing, but their power conversion efficiency must be improved. Dr. Hodgkiss has made decisive contributions to a large multidisciplinary research effort to develop efficient organic solar photovoltaic materials, leading to doubling their efficiency in the past eight years, rapidly approaching that of silicon.


Dr. Betty Galarreta, Associate Professor, Pontifica Universidad Catolica del Peru, studies Nanotechnology and Vibrational Spectroscopy. Dr. Galarreta’s main research aspects include nanomaterials, surface chemistry, plasmonics and molecular biology. Her work focuses on developing optical nanosensors with applications in the food industry, and novel vibrational spectroscopic methods to characterize nanomolecular systems and Peruvian cultural heritage materials.

Russian Federation

Dr. Andrey Enyashin, Doctor, Institute of Solid State Chemistry, Ural Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, specializes in computational materials science. The theoretical insight of Dr. Enyashin by means of quantum-chemistry methods has explained many peculiarities in polymorphism, crystal structure and electronic properties of the vanadate- and vanadia-based nanostructures, pushing ahead the application of these new materials for advanced micro- and nanosensorics.


Dr. Yanli Zhao, Associate Professor, Division of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry, Nanyang Technological University, conducts research in an interdisciplinary area of chemistry and materials with an emphasis on the design, synthesis, and applications of novel integrated materials for targeted cancer imaging and therapy. He has outlined an independent blueprint for the research program that leverages his experiences in synthetic chemistry and advanced materials by using novel nanocarriers to enhance intracellular concentration of anticancer drugs in cancer cells, while minimizing their toxicity in normal cells. His discovery of innovative therapeutic platforms that can simultaneously target diseased cells enable the location to be imaged by optical methods, and release therapeutic drugs to the diseased cells by commands.

Chinese Taipai

Dr. Yu-Lun Chueh, Professor, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, National Tsing-Hua University, explores unpredicted aspects of functional materials and enabling new schemes for the manipulation, processing and engineering of nanomaterials in nanoelectronics and energy harvesting applications. His extensive and impactful research includes the development of a novel, non‐toxic plasma enhanced selenization process to achieve a 30x40 cm2 Cu(In, Ga)Se2 solar panel with an efficiency of ~13.2 %.


Dr. Nuwong Chollacoop, Head of the Renewable Energy Laboratory at the National Metal and Materials Technology Center, focuses on sustainable biofuel for transportation and biofuel standardization. Dr. Chollacoop’s research has been applied to address the energy crisis in Thailand especially in the transportation sector. His research network on sustainable biofuel includes Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) work on biodiesel quality to support initial stage of Thailand biodiesel program. He has also led research in Thailand on “Innovation on Production and Automotive Utilization of Biofuels from Non-food Biomass” funded by Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

United States

Dr. Liangfang Zhang, Professor, Department of Nanoengineering and Moores Cancer Center, University of California, San Diego, specializes in nanomaterials and nanomedicine. Dr. Zhang’s research focuses on creating biomimetic nanomaterials for medical uses. By cloaking synthetic nanoparticles with natural cellular membranes, Dr. Zhang first invented a red blood cell-membrane-camouflaged nanoparticle platform that can evade the body’s immune system for prolonged and effective delivery of drugs. This work represents the first attempt to combine natural cellular membranes with synthetic nanomaterials to develop novel biomimetic systems. More recently he created the first ever cancer-cell-membrane coated nanoparticles for whole tumor antigen vaccination. These findings open a whole new set of opportunities for the society of nanotechnology and materials science.


Dr. Dinh Phong Tran, Doctor, Lecturer and Principal Investigator at the University of Science and Technology of Hanoi (Vietnam France University), is actively involved in research for novel catalytic materials for solar water splitting application. His approach is to learn the structure and function of enzymes to create novel efficient and robust catalytic materials. His first important contribution was during his postdoctoral stay at CEA Grenoble, France where he contributed to creating carbon nanotube – nickel/cobalt composites which displayed outstanding catalytic activities for both generation and uptake of H2 by mimicking the structure of hydrogenase enzyme. Dr. Tran also made important contribution in development of hybrid photocatalysts for solar H2 generation from water, and his method for loading catalyst onto surface of light harvester via a photoassisted electrochemical deposition process is now used by several research groups worldwide.


Written by

Alison Bert, DMA

Written by

Alison Bert, DMA

As Executive Editor of Strategic Communications at Elsevier, Dr. Alison Bert works with contributors around the world to publish daily stories for the global science and health communities. Previously, she was Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier Connect, which won the 2016 North American Excellence Award for Science & Education.

Alison joined Elsevier in 2007 from the world of journalism, where she was a business reporter and blogger for The Journal News, a Gannett daily newspaper in New York. In the previous century, she was a classical guitarist on the music faculty of Syracuse University. She received a doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, was Fulbright scholar in Spain, and studied in a master class with Andrés Segovia.


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