January 19, 2022

The Welch Foundation Announces 2022 Norman Hackerman Award Recipients

Houston, TX January 19, 2022 The Welch Foundation, one of the nation’s largest sources of private funding for basic chemistry research, today announced that Drs. Ryan Hibbs and Guihua Yu are the 2022 recipients of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research. Each of these researchers are being recognized as ‘rising stars,’ having contributed significant scientific discoveries at early stages of their careers. This marks the second time in the 21 years of the Hackerman Award that two recipients have been honored. Dr. Hibbs’ work has contributed significantly to our understanding of the structural and biophysical basis of neurotransmitter and drug actions within the brain. Dr. Yu has pioneered a series of important advances in nanomaterial science that will have far reaching applications in renewable energy.

“We are delighted to independently recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of Dr. Hibbs and Dr. Yu,” said Douglas L. Foshee, Director and Chair of The Welch Foundation. “They have so much of their careers ahead of them and we look forward to following and benefitting from their successes and discoveries in the years to come.”

As an Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Biophysics at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Dr. Hibbs and his research group have notably illuminated the mechanisms of chemical neurotransmission through high resolution 3D atomic structures. Hibbs’ team maintains a specific focus on receptors that mediate both excitatory and inhibitory actions when drugs are introduced into the nervous system. These important findings showcase how brain receptors interact with nicotine and anesthetic drugs, which will undoubtedly be of substantial importance to future drug design developments.

“Ryan has surely revolutionized the field of receptor research,” said Dr. Catherine J. Murphy, Chair of The Welch Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board. “This outstanding achievement, coupled with his skills as both a teacher and mentor have made him a stand-out in the chemical biology world.”

Hibbs’ studies have been featured in respected publications including Neuron, Nature, Cell, and Structure. Previous awards received by Dr. Hibbs include the Klingenstein-Simons Award in the Neurosciences, the McKnight Scholar Award, and the UC San Diego Outstanding Alumnus Award, among numerous research grants. He currently serves on the Review Board for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Cryo EM Project Proposals and has previously served on the Editorial Advisory Board for the Journal of General Physiology. He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience and the Biophysical Society.

Since becoming an Associate Professor in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Yu has focused his research on functional polymer nanostructures with tunable chemical and physical interfaces and properties, with applications in energy and environmental science. Dr. Yu and his team have developed a jelly-like hydrogel with unprecedented electronic conductivity capabilities. This new technology has significant potential applications for a range of technologies, including ones that will lessen our environmental impact.

“Dr. Yu has emerged as an influential leader in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology,” said Murphy. “His innovative and wide-ranging research makes him an ideal recipient of the Hackerman Award. The depth of his work to address grand energy and environmental challenges is exceptional.”

Dr. Yu has received many international and national awards and honors including the Blavatnik National Awards Honoree, the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award by TAMEST, the TMS Brimacombe Medalist Award, The IAAM Medal Award, the Polymer International - IUPAC Award for Creativity in Applied Polymer Science, and the Outstanding Young Scientist by World Laureates Forum (WLF), among many others. He has published over 230 papers in many prominent scientific journals including Science, Nature, Nature Reviews Materials, Nature Materials, and Nature Nanotechnology.

The Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research was established by The Welch Foundation to honor Norman Hackerman, its Scientific Advisory Board chair from 1982 to 2006. The award recognizes the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers. It is designed to encourage young scientists who are embarking on careers dedicated to increasing our fundamental understanding of chemistry. Upon accepting the award, Drs. Hibbs and Yu will each receive $100,000, as well as a crystal sculpture to commemorate the occasion.

Since 1954, the Houston-based Welch Foundation has contributed more than $1 billion to the advancement of chemistry through research grants, departmental research grants, endowed chairs and support for other chemistry-related programs in Texas. For more information on the Foundation and a list of previous Hackerman Award recipients, please visit www.welch1.org.


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