8 Berkeley Lab Scientists Named 2020 AAAS Fellows

New Fellows honored for contributions in fields ranging from astrophysics and science philanthropy to the noncoding genome and high-performance computing


Credit: Berkeley Lab

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which was founded in 1848 and is the world’s largest general scientific society, today announced that 489 of its members, among them eight scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), have been named Fellows.

This lifetime honor, which follows a nomination and review process, recognizes scientists, engineers, and innovators for their distinguished achievements toward the advancement or applications of science.

The new Berkeley Lab Fellows and their organizational area or division are:

  • Wibe A. “Bert” de Jong (Computational Research Division)
  • Spencer R. Klein (Nuclear Science Division)
  • Sanjay Kumar (Biological Systems and Engineering Division)
  • Mary E. Maxon (Biosciences Area)
  • Esmond G. Ng (Computational Research Division)
  • Len Pennacchio (Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology Division)
  • Robert Oliver Ritchie (Materials Sciences Division)
  • Peidong Yang (Materials Sciences and Chemical Sciences Divisions)

Bert de Jong

Bert de Jong, a Computational Research Division (CRD) senior scientist, was recognized for “seminal contributions to the development of scientific computing tools and approaches used worldwide, which has enabled advancements in the chemical sciences.”

Within CRD, de Jong leads the Computational Chemistry, Materials, and Climate Group, which advances scientific computing by creating and enhancing applications in key disciplines, as well as developing tools and libraries for addressing general problems in computational science. The group is currently focused on applications for exascale computing, quantum computing, and machine learning for chemical and materials sciences and beyond.

He is the Berkeley Lab lead on the Department of Energy (DOE) Exascale Computing Project’s NWChemEX project, contributing to the development of a new exascale computational chemistry code. Looking beyond Moore’s Law, de Jong is the director of the QAT4Chem and AIDE-QC projects, which are focused on developing algorithms and software for quantum computers. In quantum computing, he is collaborating on various chemical sciences, high-energy physics, and nuclear sciences projects. He’s also working with researchers at the Seaborg Institute to elucidate actinide chemistry.

Throughout his career, de Jong has published more than 110 journal papers, 17 conference papers, seven book chapters, and one edited book with more than 6,300 citations. He is the founding Editor-in-Chief for the IOP journal Electronic Structure, a Specialist Editor for Computer Physics Communications, and an Associate Editor for Computational and Mathematical Methods.

Spencer Klein

Spencer Klein, a senior scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Nuclear Science Division and research physicist at UC Berkeley, was recognized for his “contributions in the interface of astrophysics, nuclear physics, and particle physics, including neutrino astrophysics and ultra-peripheral collisions of heavy ions.”

Klein is an experimental physicist whose research includes the detection of astrophysical neutrinos – ghostly particles that originate outside our solar system – using large detector arrays. He has held several leadership roles in the IceCube Neutrino Observatory experiment, which uses an array of more than 5,400 spherical detector modules embedded in South Pole ice to capture light signals related to neutrino interactions. On IceCube, he leads efforts to use naturally produced, high-energy neutrinos to study the properties of neutrinos’ interactions at energies far beyond those available at human-made accelerators, and he led the effort to make the first measurement of neutrino absorption in the Earth.

Klein also studies ultra-peripheral collisions of heavy ions. In these collisions, scientists use photons from one ion to make precise measurements of the internal structure of the other colliding ion. Klein pioneered major aspects of the theoretical and experimental applications for these types of collisions through his work on Brookhaven National Laboratory’s STAR detector. He is now studying these reactions at higher energies using the ALICE detector at CERN, where he is the convenor of a working group focused on ultra-peripheral collisions, diffractive interactions, and cosmic-ray physics. Klein’s physics interests and expertise have led to his involvement in the planned Electron-Ion Collider at Brookhaven Lab, and he is part of a team that is supporting this collider effort by developing detectors to study vector meson production. He also led a Laboratory Directed Research and Development effort to perform simulations and accelerator physics studies related to the collider. Klein served as deputy director for Berkeley Lab’s Nuclear Science Division from 2011 to 2013. He was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society in November 2009, and serves as chairman of the APS Committee on Scientific Publications.

Sanjay Kumar

Sanjay Kumar, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Biological Systems & Engineering Division and professor and chair of UC Berkeley’s Bioengineering Department, has been elected for his “distinguished contributions to the field of bioengineering, particularly the development of biomaterial and single-cell technologies to investigate mechanobiological signaling in health and disease.”

Kumar’s research group investigates the molecular basis of cell shape, mechanics, and motility, as well as how cells mechanically interact with their surroundings. This work provides key insight into many areas of biology and medicine, including how tissues develop and how tumors grow and spread. His team is currently investigating how cancer and stem cells sense and process biophysical signals. They are also developing high-functioning “smart” materials inspired by structural networks within cells and tissues.

After earning both an MD and Ph.D. in molecular biophysics from Johns Hopkins University, Kumar served as an NIH Research Fellow at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School. He first joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 2005, and was named Chair of Bioengineering in 2019. He also currently serves as a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Kumar is also an elected Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the Biomedical Engineering Society. He was previously awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator Award, the NSF CAREER Award, and the Stem Cells Young Investigator Award.

Mary Maxon

Mary Maxon, the Associate Laboratory Director for Berkeley Lab’s Biosciences Area, was recognized for her “outstanding contributions to science-informed policymaking, wise policies for life sciences research, research management, and science philanthropy.”

Before joining the Biosciences Area leadership team, Maxon gained a comprehensive view of the many technological and economic opportunities – and accompanying challenges – of the current biological research landscape by working in both the public and private sectors. After earning a Ph.D. in molecular cell biology from UC Berkeley and doing a postdoc in genetics at UCSF, she worked at several biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies before venturing into policy, most notably serving as the Assistant Director for Biological Research at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama Administration, during which she developed the foundational National Bioeconomy Blueprint.

In her role at Berkeley Lab, Maxon developed and is leading a large-scale scientific strategic plan aimed at advancing the U.S. bioeconomy by fostering close relationships between the DOE national labs, academia, and industry; and by leveraging the continually advancing, world-class facilities, equipment, and expertise that is unique to Berkeley Lab. Earlier this year, she testified at a hearing held by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology about how the DOE’s wide portfolio of biosciences capabilities have been an essential part of the country’s ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response.

Maxon also serves on the steering group of the International Advisory Council of the Global Bioeconomy Summit 2020; serves as the incoming chair of the AAAS Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy; is a member of Berkeley Lab’s Senior Leadership Council for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accountability; and previously served as the first executive director of the Science Philanthropy Alliance.

Esmond Ng

Esmond Ng, CRD senior scientist and division deputy, was recognized for “distinguished contributions to research in numerical algebra and high-performance computing, and for scientific leadership.”

Ng has been a leader in the DOE Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) program since 2001, where he has led a team of computational mathematicians that works closely with domain scientists and develops and applies sparse matrix techniques to solve challenging large-scale DOE scientific problems. The sparse matrix algorithms that Ng and his collaborators have developed are well known and used in a variety of scientific and engineering applications, such as structural analysis, numerical optimization, computational fluid dynamics, and finite element calculations. He was a key contributor to the SPARSPAK package, one of the first efficient and reliable software packages for solving large sparse systems of linear equations. The package was used widely by organizations like Boeing and NASA, as well as by university researchers.

The research efforts by Ng and his collaborators have accelerated scientific discoveries, which include detecting design defects in accelerator cavities through modeling and simulation for the upgrade of DOE’s Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Laboratory; predicting the properties of the Fluorine-14 isotope through simulation before it was detected experimentally in 2010 at Texas A&M University’s Cyclotron Institute; and understanding why the Carbon-14 isotope (which is used for carbon dating) has such a long, useful lifetime. All three breakthroughs required the solution of large-scale sparse matrix problems (sparse systems of linear equations and sparse eigenvalue calculations) at the heart of the computation.

Ng’s research career spans more than three decades, during which he has co-authored more than 60 peer-reviewed technical papers and more than 40 conference papers and written chapters for nine books on matrix computation. He also co-authored the book “Parallel Algorithms for Matrix Computations,” which was published by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

Len Pennacchio

Len Pennacchio, a senior scientist in the Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology Division, deputy of genomic technologies at the DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI), and an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, was recognized for his “distinguished and pioneering contributions toward understanding how the noncoding genome works to regulate gene expression and to affect normal mammalian development and disease.”

In 1999, Pennacchio joined the Berkeley Lab as a DOE Alexander Hollaender Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow where he began his work on noncoding human DNA.

Pennacchio was involved in DOE’s contribution to the Human Genome Project and has spent his career understanding how genes are functionally regulated and how this regulation goes awry in human disease. He also oversees the development of new genomic technologies to support the work of JGI’s user community in energy and environmental research.

Pennacchio is a recipient of the White House Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the Genome Technology Magazine Award for Tomorrow’s PIs. He currently co-chairs three “Advances in Genome Biology & Technology” scientific meetings and serves on the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research within the National Institutes of Health.

Robert Oliver Ritchie

Robert Oliver Ritchie, a senior faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and of H.T. & Jessie Chua Distinguished Professor of Engineering, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Professor of Materials Science & Engineering at UC Berkeley, was recognized for his “distinguished contributions to the understanding of the fracture of materials and structures, from metals, ceramics, and composites to aircraft, medical devices, and biological materials.”

Ritchie joined Berkeley Lab in 1981. Much of his pioneering research is focused on investigating the mechanical behavior of metals and ceramics as well as composites and biological materials. Among his vast body of work, which includes patented technologies and hundreds of scientific papers and other publications, his most notable discoveries uncovered the microstructural mechanisms by which structural materials resist fracture and fatigue.

He is a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in the U.K., the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, and the Russian Academy of Sciences; a member of the U.K. Royal Academy of Engineering and the European Academy of Sciences; and a fellow of the Materials Research Society, the American Ceramic Society, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a fellow/life member of the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society.

Peidong Yang

Peidong Yang, a senior faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences and Chemical Sciences Divisions, professor of chemistry and S.K. and Angela Chan Distinguished Professor of Energy at UC Berkeley, and a world-renowned expert on nanostructures and synthesis of new classes of materials, was recognized for “his pioneering work on semiconductor nanowire-based technology, including molecularly designed nanosystems to solve some of the most vexing energy problems of our time.”

Yang, who joined Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division in 1999, has conducted groundbreaking research on semiconductor nanowires – wires more than 10,000 times thinner than a human hair with wide-ranging applications in clean energy and other fields – as well as in nanowire photonics. He has used an array of semiconducting nanowires, combined with bacteria, to capture carbon dioxide emissions and then, powered by solar energy, turn those emissions into valuable chemical products. Yang was a director of DOE’s Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis when its northern facility launched at Berkeley Lab in 2011.

Among his many awards, he received the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award in 2014, DOE’s highest scientific honor, and was named a MacArthur “genius” fellow in 2015. He has perennially been named by Thomson Reuters and other organizations as one of the world’s most highly cited scientists in not one but three fields, physics, materials science, and chemistry.

This year’s AAAS Fellows will be formally announced in the journal Science on Nov. 27, 2020. A virtual induction ceremony for the new Fellows will be held on Feb. 13, 2021.


– Berkeley Lab’s Theresa Duque, Aliyah Kovner, Linda Vu, and David Gilbert contributed to this press release.

Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 14 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.

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