Distinguished Lehigh researcher Zakya Kafafi elected to National Academy of Engineering


Kafafi’s ‘contributions to materials technologies for organic optoelectronics’ recognized with one of the highest honors given to engineers in the United States


Credit: Lehigh University

Zakya H. Kafafi, Distinguished Research Fellow within the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science at Lehigh University, was recently elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), one of the highest honors given to engineers in the United States.

The NAE provides guidance to the federal government and conducts independent studies in engineering while honoring individuals who have made significant contributions to research, practice, and education, and who have been influential in new fields of technology.

Kafafi was recognized for her “contributions to materials technologies for organic optoelectronics,” according to the NAE’s announcement. She will be formally inducted during the NAE’s annual meeting on Oct. 3, 2021. The newly elected class brings the total US membership to 2,355 and the number of international members to 298.

“I’m honored to join colleagues dedicated to service the engineering profession and to the technological advancement of our nation,” says Kafafi, who is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Materials Research Society (MRS), the Optical Society of America (OSA), and the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE).

Kafafi’s work has been motivated by newly emerging technologies based on organic electronics and photonics, spanning a wide spectrum of disciplines including the chemistry and physics of organic and nanostructured materials, organic nonlinear optics, light-emitting materials and devices, photovoltaics, and plasmonics.

She served as an assistant professor in Egypt, conducted research in catalytic chemistry using the technique of Matrix Isolation Spectroscopy at Rice University in Houston, and worked at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), in Washington, DC, (where she led an interdisciplinary research team and established a section on organic optoelectronics) prior to joining Lehigh in 2008 as an adjunct professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).

“We are thrilled that Dr. Kafafi has been elected to the NAE,” says Chengshan Xiao, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and chair of Lehigh’s ECE department. “She has been an impactful technical leader.”

Xiao points to Kafafi’s tenure at the National Science Foundation (2007-2011), where she served as the first female director of the Division of Material Research. In that role, she managed a nearly $1 billion budget portfolio and oversaw the funding of a wide range of research projects and initiatives, instrumentation, research centers and major facilities.

He also credits her “invaluable contributions” to Lehigh’s ECE department, where she launched a joint research program with the group of Fil Bartoli on Plasmonic Nanostructured Organic Photovoltaics.

Kafafi holds a PhD and MA in chemistry from Rice University; she received her BS from the University of Houston with a major in chemistry and a minor in mathematics. She has spent time as a visiting scholar/professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern University.

She was one of the founders of the Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) Network and started a mentor program for which she won the NRL Commanding Officer’s Award “for achievements in the field of equal employment opportunity and the creation of a mentor program for scientists and engineers.”

Kafafi was the founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Photonics for Energy and was the inaugural deputy editor for chemical, physical, materials, mathematical sciences and engineering for Science Advances. She serves on numerous advisory boards and committees and chairs conferences including the annual SPIE Symposium on Organic Photonics and Electronics and the Conference on Organic, Hybrid, and Perovskites Photovoltaics (OHPVs). In 2019, she launched and organized a new conference on Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE) that rotates yearly between different countries.

Kafafi received an IR-100 Award (now known as the R&D 100 Award) for designing a cryogenic link that rotates and translates in vacuum; she also holds an NRL Edison Patent Award for inventing a simple two-step, cost-effective method to pattern electrically conducting polymers for flexible optoelectronic devices.

She is a member of the American Chemical Society and, in 2018, received the Hillebrand Prize, the ACS Chemical Society of Washington’s highest honor, for her pioneering contributions in organic optics and electronics technologies through innovative physical chemistry and materials chemistry research.

She was also honored with the Kuwait Prize in Applied Sciences in the field of Renewable and Sustainable Energy for her research on the uses of organic solar cells to generate clean and sustainable energy, and to improve their performance and efficiency. In 2020, she became one of the Founding Members of the Academy of Arab Scientists in Kuwait.


Related Links:

  • Rossin College: Zakya Kafafi
  • NAE: “National Academy of Engineering Elects 104 Members and 24 International Members”
  • Lehigh University: Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

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