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UW-Madison chemist wins innovation prize

February 8, 2011 By Chris Barncard

University of Wisconsin–Madison Meloche-Bascom Professor of Chemistry Martin Zanni is being honored for contributions to the advancement of science within his laboratory and beyond.

In January, the National Academy of Sciences named Zanni the winner of the 2011 Award for Initiatives in Research, which “recognizes innovative young scientists and encourages research likely to lead toward new capabilities for human benefit,” according to Zanni’s citation.

The academy pointed out Zanni’s “revolutionary advances in multidimensional spectroscopies, which are enabling discoveries in biological, medical and condensed matter chemical systems,” in its award announcement.

Zanni has developed methods for studying the movement and development of complex molecules. His UW–Madison lab has applied the technology to diabetes research — for which he recently won a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the White House Office of Science and Technology — but it has spread to other fields as well.

“It’s being used to study solar cell materials, because we can better measure how photons like those from the sun are absorbed to make electricity,” Zanni said. “And since our technique works across a wide range of the spectrum, it can also be applied to study light-harvesting complexes in plants, to better understand how plants convert sunlight into energy. People are already mimicking our methods to do those experiments.”

The award, supported by Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, comes with a $15,000 prize.