Two named distinguished professors in Eberly College of Science

July 30, 2008

Peter Eklund has been named a distinguished professor of physics and of materials science and engineering, and Hong Ma has been named a distinguished professor of biology at Penn State. Their titles are presented in recognition of their exceptional record of teaching, research and service to the University community.

Eklund has an international reputation for research achievements in carbon materials, materials synthesis and structure-property relationships in solids. He has specialized in the electrical and optical properties of materials and in developing models at the atomic scale to explain the data obtained in research experiments. He has been recognized internationally for the discovery of the photopolymerization of fullerenes -- the bonding of two or more of these small molecules under the influence of light -- a discovery that later was confirmed by nuclear-magnetic-resonance (NMR).  His group also was the first to demonstrate the utility of vibrational spectroscopy in characterizing the fundamental properties of several classes of carbon materials, including fullerenes and carbon nanotubes.

Using the results of optical, spectroscopic and electrical-transport measurements, Eklund builds microscopic models of the structure of new materials to explain their physical properties. He also is working to develop materials that can be used for thermoelectric refrigeration and solar photovoltaic cells based on nanowires.

Among Eklund's research interests are the development of growth models for carbon nanotubes and crystalline nanowires, as well as their synthesis, and the physical and chemical properties of these quantum filaments. He also is investigating the use of carbon nanotubes and graphene as thermoelectric chemical sensors, as well as the confinement of photons in nanotubes and small-diameter semiconducting nanowires. Eklund's group was among the first to report that carbon nanotubes can store hydrogen in significant amounts only at very low temperatures.

Eklund is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and was named the George D. Graffin Lecturer in Carbon Science and Engineering by the American Carbon Society in 2007 for his distinguished contributions to carbon science and engineering. He recently received the Japan Carbon Award for Life-Time Achievement for his "lifelong great contributions in the field of carbon materials science and technology."   

Eklund has held visiting professorships at several universities in Japan, and was a visiting scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1985 and 1986. He has coauthored two books, has contributed chapters to 19 books and has published more than 300 scientific papers. He holds three U.S. patents as a result of his materials research and has five additional patents pending.

Eklund participated in the early development of three small research-and-development businesses. He and his colleagues at PhotoStealth Inc. developed computer-generated camouflage patterns that could be printed on textiles. At ICMR Inc., now known as NeoPhotonics Inc., the research was focused on laser-driven synthesis of nanoparticles and coatings. At CarboLex Inc., where he currently is president and chief executive officer, he works on large-scale production of bundles of single-walled carbon nanotubes.

Eklund came to Penn State as a professor of physics in 1999.  He previously had been an assistant professor, associate professor, and professor at the University of Kentucky from 1977 to 1999, where he also was associate director of the Center for Applied Energy Research from 1991 to 1998.  In 1998 the university awarded him with the annual University Research Professorship for outstanding research and service.  Eklund was a postdoctoral research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1975 to 1977, and was an associate engineer at the Lockheed Missile and Space Co. from 1968 to 1969. He received his bachelor's degree in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1967 and his doctoral degree in solid-state physics from Purdue University in 1974.

Ma's research focuses on the molecular basis of plant reproduction. In particular, he is interested in one of the most important and basic of biological processes, the production of eggs and sperm. Ma uses a variety of approaches to understand this topic, including studies of the molecular genetics of flower development and genome-based studies of flower evolution. This work is widely applicable to all organisms that reproduce sexually, including humans.

In one of Ma's research projects, he is using both naturally mutated and genetically altered plants to analyze the regulatory genes that control early flower development. In particular, he is studying a family of genes that may regulate protein turnover during development. These genes play important roles in normal growth and development of floral organs and the reproductive success of flowering plants.

In another project, Ma is working to understand the genes that are important for male meiosis, the process by which cell division gives rise to sperm. Ma's group has discovered several new genes that are important for male meiosis in the plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Although these genes are similar to genes in other organisms, their functions in meiosis were not revealed previously. As a result of their work with these genes, Ma's group may have discovered novel regulators of meiosis.

Ma has been the recipient of numerous awards, including Penn State's 2004-2005 Faculty Scholar Medal for Life and Health Science, which recognizes scholarly or creative excellence represented by a single contribution or a series of contributions around a coherent theme. He also received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2004 and an American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Research Award in 1994.

Ma received his bachelor's degree from Temple University in 1983 and his doctoral degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology from 1988 to 1990. In 1998, he joined the faculty of the Department of Biology at Penn State.


Last Updated March 19, 2009