Blenner Receives Presidential Award

Six other early-career faculty also recognized

An associate professor whose research could help enable long-term space missions and search for some of the globe’s most destructive weapons has received the U.S. government’s highest honor for early-career scientists and engineers.

Mark Blenner, the McQueen-Quattlebaum Associate Professor in the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering, received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Blenner was among 311 researchers nationwide, including two from South Carolina, honored with the award, according to the White House. Blenner is the fifth Clemson researcher to win the award since it was commissioned in 1996 by the cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council. The nominating agency for Blenner’s award was NASA, and he was one of 18 from the administration to win.

Blenner and his team are working to engineer yeast to convert respiration carbon dioxide, algae biomass and urine into 3D printable plastics and nutritional omega-3 fats. Astronauts on missions to Mars, for example, could use the plastics to make new tools and use the omega-3 fatty acids for maintaining health.

Six other Clemson researchers are bringing home some of the nation’s other top awards for junior faculty members — honors that come with new opportunities to advance technology that could lead to a more sustainable environment, safer water supplies, robotic cars and a faster, more secure internet.

1 | Eric Davis, chemical and biomolecular engineering (National Science Foundation). Davis and his team are researching new materials aimed at reducing the cost of large-scale energy storage technologies. Their success could mean that utilities would be able to introduce more renewable energy to the electrical grid and reduce the amount of fossil fuels that need to be burned.

2 | Ben Jaye, mathematical and statistical sciences (National Science Foundation). Jaye is working to understand the structure of high-dimensional sets through the analysis of geometric wavelets. He also is seeking to increase undergraduate student participation in mathematical research with the introduction of an annual research symposium, and to advance educational activities at the graduate and postdoctoral levels.

3 | Hongxin Hu, computer science (National Science Foundation). Hu and his team are developing new security functions to protect computer networks from attacks, including a virtual intrusion detection system that would detect attacks and a virtual firewall system that would repel them.

4 | Yunyi Jia, automotive engineering (National Science Foundation). Jia and his team are studying what it will take to make people more comfortable with robots, like autonomous vehicles and collaborative robots involved in advanced manufacturing.

5 | Judson Ryckman, electrical and computer engineering (U.S. Air Force). Ryckman’s team is working to create smaller and more efficient photonic devices. The research could lead to improvements in a wide range of industries and products, including faster internet downloads and self-driving cars better equipped to navigate city streets.

6 | Ezra Cates, environmental engineering (Environmental Protection Agency). Cates and his team are studying how to break down and remove toxic chemicals from water. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are man-made chemicals that have contaminated drinking water supplies and groundwater at several sites around the country.