2024 Mautner Perkins Memorial Lecture Series and Graduate Awards

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In early May 2024, Professor Omar Yaghi from the University of California, Berkeley, visited UCLA to deliver the Mautner Perkins Memorial Lectures, including a scientific lecture and a public lecture. Following his public lecture, two graduate students were honored with the 2024 Mautner Perkins Memorial Graduate Awards.

Select photos from the 2024 Mautner Perkins Memorial Lecture Series events can be viewed below, and the full photo gallery is available here.  

On May 6, Yaghi gave his 2024 Mautner Perkins Memorial Department Scientific Lecture titled “Reticular Chemistry and ChatGPT” in the Dongwon Yoo Seminar & Conference Hall. The next day, on May 7, he gave his 2024 Mautner Perkins Memorial Public Lecture titled, “Water Harvesting from Desert Air,” in the CNSI auditorium. After the public lecture, Leonard Mautner’s grandson, Kevin Perkins, presented the 2024 Mautner Perkins Memorial Graduate Awards to two Chemistry & Biochemistry graduate students.

Prof. Omar Yaghi at his May 6, 2024 Mautner Perkins Department Scientific Lecture.
Prof. Yaghi at his May 7, 2024 Mautner Perkins Public Lecture.

Yaghi was a member of the UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry department from 2006 to 2011. During his time at UCLA, he held the title of Christopher S. Foote Professor of Chemistry. In 2012, Yaghi joined the University of California, Berkeley, faculty where he is currently the James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Chemistry at UC Berkeley and a Senior Faculty Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is the Founding Director of the Berkeley Global Science Institute, the Co-Director of the Kavli Energy NanoScience Institute, and the California Research Alliance by BASF.

At the reception before the public lecture Prof. Yaghi with Kevin Perkins, Nelli Perkins, and Lewis Perkins.
Prof. Yaghi with Lucy Eisenberg and Professor David Eisenberg.

The Mautner Memorial Lecture Series and Graduate Awards were established in 1983 by the late Leonard Mautner (1917-2006) and continued after his passing through the generosity of his wife Marguerite Perkins Mautner, to recognize the importance of scientific thought and provide a forum for the dissemination of scientific discovery to students and the public. A recent gift from the Mautner Perkins family further amplified the impact of both this lecture series and the awards that student recipients receive. This is the first year the Division of Physical Sciences hosted this series under the lecture’s new name – The Mautner Perkins Memorial Lectures. Leonard Mautner’s son Lewis Perkins, Lewis’ son Kevin Perkins, and his wife Nelli Perkins, also UCLA supporters, were present at the public event.  

“This series is a proud part of UCLA’s deep commitment to promoting and advancing scientific education” said Dean of Physical Sciences Miguel García-Garibay in his welcoming remarks at the public lecture. “We are profoundly grateful for the generosity and support of the Mautner Perkins family, and we are delighted that they are here tonight to celebrate Leonard and Marguerite’s generous legacy to UCLA.”

After being introduced by Dean García-Garibay, Kevin Perkins presented the Mautner Perkins Memorial Graduate Awards to chemistry graduate students Robert Lavroff (Alexandrova group) and Yessica Nelson (Spokoyny group). The awards, which include a $5,000 prize, recognize currently enrolled meritorious graduate students who are conducting research in the areas related to the topic of the Mautner Perkins Research Lecture. See below for more information about the recipients.

Kevin Perkins with graduate student Robert Lavroff.
Perkins with graduate student Yessica Nelson.

At the May 7th lecture, Kevin Perkins presented certificates to the 2024 Mautner Perkins Memorial Graduate Award recipients Robert Lavroff (Alexandrova group) and Yessica Nelson (Spokoyny group).

In his remarks, Kevin Perkins said “The Mautner Perkins Graduate Awards address a vital need: helping UCLA attract the very best students and provide an environment of rich resources to maintain our academic and research excellence.”

UCLA presents the Mautner Perkins Memorial Lectures every two years, alternating between the Divisions of Physical and Life Sciences. Previous Mautner lecturers have included Nobel Laureate Paul Berg, world-renowned plasma physicist Roald Sagdeev, Nobel Laureate and former Director of the National Cancer Institute, Harold Varmus, and Nobel Laureate Sir Fraser Stoddart.

About the 2024 Mautner Perkins Graduate Fellows

Robert Lavroff – Rob is a fourth-year Ph.D. student on the theory/computation track in Professor Anastassia Alexandrova’s group. He obtained his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Northwestern University, where he did undergraduate research with Professor Omar Farha. After that, he worked in software for two years before coming to UCLA to join the Alexandrova group. There, he develops and applies “quantum embedding” electronic structure software to affordably treat strongly-correlated, solid-state systems where density functional theory (DFT) is inaccurate or breaks down altogether. This includes certain metal-organic frameworks, quantum materials, and heterogeneous catalysts. Rob is a NSF Graduate Research Fellow and is co-advised by Dr. Denis Usvyat of Humboldt University in Berlin. He would like to express his gratitude to the selection committee and the Mautner and Perkins families.

Yessica Nelson – Yessica Alejandra Nelson is a fourth-year Ph.D. student specializing in inorganic chemistry, working under the guidance of Alexander M. Spokoyny. Her research is focused on the site-specific vertex-differentiation of B12-based boron clusters, with applications ranging from battery electrolytes to therapeutics. During her undergraduate studies, she was part of Yangyang Liu’s research group, where she led projects designing metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) for hydrogen storage, water purification, and helped develop heterogeneous catalyst for the degradation of chemical warfare agents. Her curiosity for inorganic chemistry was sparked by the work of Omar Yaghi, whose innovative research in MOFs has continually expanded the horizons of fundamental inorganic chemistry and addressed global challenges. She is honored to have received the prestigious Mautner-Perkins Award and is grateful for the consistent support of the Mautner-Perkins Family towards science innovation.

Article and photos by Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.