2020 Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists

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Neil Garg and alumni Luis Campos and Will Dichtel named National Finalists for the 2020 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists.

The thirty-one finalists, chosen from a pool of 305 nominated researchers aged 42 years or younger, are considered to be some of America’s most important young scientists driving the next generation of innovation by addressing today’s most complex and intriguing scientific questions. They now will compete for the largest unrestricted awards of their kind for early career scientists and engineers.

There are ten finalists in each of three categories: life sciences, chemistry and physical sciences and engineering. The 2020 Blavatnik National Laureates, one from each category, will be announced on July 22. Each laureate will receive a cash prize of $250,000. 

GargSmall2017 2Professor Neil Garg is the Chair of the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry and the inaugural holder of the Kenneth N. Trueblood Endowed Chair in Chemistry & Biochemistry. He is known for his innovative teaching techniques, and his breakthroughs in methods development, achievements in natural product total synthesis, and transformative chemical educational initiatives. Garg was a National Finalist for the Blavatnik award in 2018.

Campos Small 0Dr. Luis M. Campos, an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Columbia University, received his Ph.D. in chemistry from UCLA in 2006 under the supervision of Professor Miguel Garcia-Garibay and Professor Ken Houk. While at UCLA, he was awarded the NSF Predoctoral Fellowship, Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship, and the Saul & Silvia Winstein Award for his graduate research in solid-state photochemistry. Campos was a National Finalist for the Blavatnik award in 2018. 

Dichel SmallFrom 2005 to 2008, Dr. William Dichtel, a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Northwestern University, held a joint postdoctoral research associate appointment at UCLA with Professor Fraser Stoddart and at the California Institute of Technology with former UCLA faculty member Professor James Heath. Dichtel was a National Finalist for the Blavatnik award in 2017 and 2019.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Awards ceremony and gala dinner in honor of the 2020 Blavatnik National Awards Laureates and Finalists typically held each year in September will be postponed to 2021. The 2020 Blavatnik National Awards honorees will be celebrated alongside the 2021 Blavatnik National Awards honorees, on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Originally founded by the Blavatnik Family Foundation in 2013 and independently administered by the New York Academy of Sciences to elevate the work and research of early-career scientists, the Awards recognize the past accomplishments and future promise of America’s most talented young faculty-rank scientists and engineers. In an era where most scientific prizes honor lifetime achievement, the Blavatnik National Awards aim to support young scientists at a pivotal career juncture when money and visibility can catapult a scientist’s career, thereby accelerating the pace of scientific innovation and discovery for society at large.

Besides Garg, the only other UCLA faculty members who have been National Finalists for the Blavatnik award are Professor Xiangfeng Duan in 2015, 2018 and 2019. and Professor Aydogan Ozcan (Department of Electrical Engineering) in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2020.

Excerpt from the award announcement:

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Blavatnik Scholars are driving key advances in science that will transform the world. This year’s Finalists have made cutting-edge discoveries that include “reversing” bacterial evolution to fight antibiotic resistance; creating stretchable biological fibers that can be used in artificial muscles; improving algorithms to analyze visual data; developing new methods to use light to control chemical reactions; designing novel 2D and 3D polymers; and driving radical advances that can impact water purification, renewable energy and building materials, and next generation electronics. Short descriptions of the honorees’ research can be found below.

2020 Blavatnik National Awards Finalists in Chemistry

Luis Campos, PhD (Columbia University) – To harness the energy of the sun for clean energy technologies, solar cells must be able to efficiently convert solar energy to electricity we can use. Polymer chemist Luis Campos has spearheaded the synthesis and development of new chromophores—unique molecular modules that interact with light—that possess advanced electrical properties. Use of these novel chromophores could significantly increase the conversion efficiency of next-generation solar cells, harnessing more energy from the sun. Beyond solar cells, Campos and his team are revolutionizing a broad spectrum of crucial technologies by focusing on the molecular design of novel functional materials to address important problems in materials chemistry.

William Dichtel, PhD (Northwestern University) – Novel materials based on 2D grids and 3D scaffolds are the province of chemist William Dichtel, whose work crosses the frontiers of organic, polymer, and materials chemistry. Dichtel has pioneered efforts to construct materials that contain tiny pores and possess extremely high surface areas, making them ideal materials for water purification, the detection of explosives, and new energy storage technologies.

Neil Garg, PhD (University of California, Los Angeles) – Neil Garg is an organic chemist and a world leader in the synthesis of complex molecules. Garg has made significant contributions to the field of catalysis by developing new chemical reactions that allow chemists to break bonds that were once considered unbreakable. Some of his most innovative work includes the development of reactions involving cyclic alkynes—a chemical species traditionally considered too reactive to be useful. Garg’s methods are employed widely in the pharmaceutical industry in the synthesis of new medicines. In addition, Garg is an award-winning chemistry educator excelling in both classroom teaching and the creation of innovative online educational resources that are used all over the world.


“The world has never needed scientists more than right now,” said Len Blavatnik, founder and chairman of Access Industries, head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation and member of the President’s Council of the New York Academy of Sciences. “In these challenging times, the work of these impressive young scientists offers us hope. Their research will lead to solutions—new inventions, discoveries, and ideas—that will endow society with the tools needed to surmount the difficult challenges our world currently is faced with. We are very proud to honor them.” Ellis Rubinstein, President Emeritus of the New York Academy of Sciences and chair of the Awards’ Scientific Advisory Council said: “It has been my true honor to partner with visionaries such as Len Blavatnik, who understand that science and technology make this world better. I know that the impact of the Blavatnik Awards—and of these stellar Blavatnik National Awards Finalists—will only increase in the coming years.” Incoming President and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences, Nicholas Dirks, PhD, added: “As I get to know the scientists in the Academy’s network, I’ve discovered that past and present Blavatnik Scholars are some of the top young scientists in the United States. We are excited to induct these 2020 Blavatnik National Awards Finalists into the New York Academy of Sciences and we are proud to celebrate them and their achievements, and to showcase their work to the world.” The Blavatnik Family Foundation expressed their gratitude to scientists all over the world for their selfless response to the pandemic. To learn about some of the work Blavatnik Scholars are doing to combat COVID-19, please visit https://www.nyas.org/news-articles/academy-news/rallying-to-the-fight-against-covid-19/.

About the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists

The Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, established by the Blavatnik Family Foundation in the United States in 2007 and independently administered by the New York Academy of Sciences, began by identifying outstanding regional scientific talent in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The Blavatnik National Awards were first awarded in 2014 and, in 2017, the Awards were expanded to honor faculty-rank scientists in the United Kingdom and in Israel. By the close of 2020, the Blavatnik Awards will have conferred prizes totaling over $10.2 million to 321 outstanding young scientists and engineers from more than 46 countries, representing 36 scientific and engineering disciplines. For updates about the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, please visit www.blavatnikawards.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@BlavatnikAwards).

About the Blavatnik Family Foundation

The Blavatnik Family Foundation is an active supporter of world-renowned educational, scientific, cultural, and charitable institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Russia and throughout the world. The Foundation is headed by Len Blavatnik, a global industrialist and philanthropist and the Founder and Chairman of Access Industries, a privately-held industrial group based in the US with global strategic interests. Visit: www.accessindustries.comorwww.blavatnikfoundation.org. Read the full announcement here.


Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.