Professor receives fellowship to advance microscopy research


Photo courtesy of Renske van der Veen

photo courtesy of Renske van der Veen Renske van der Veen was named a Packard Fellow for her research in material visualization.

By Caroline Coyle, Contributing Writer

University chemistry professor Renske van der Veen has been awarded the Packard Fellowship for her research in visualizing materials vital for creating solar energy at the atomic level, which helps to convert energy more efficiently.

The Packard Fellowship is a five-year grant awarding $875,000 to 18 fellows selected from a pool of science and engineering professors who are in the early stages of their careers. Nominees are chosen by the presidents of their respective universities.

Van der Veen is developing a new microscope with a time resolution fast enough to allow researchers to watch materials change on the time scale of a trillionth of a second.

“Soon we will have a world-wide unique instrument that will let us peek inside materials with an unprecedented level of detail,” van der Veen said in an email.

This new experimental tool may be costly to develop. The grant will be used to fund its development, she said.

“The Packard Fellowship will give our lab a tremendous amount of flexibility to really push the limits of materials characterization,” van der Veen said. “The fellowship, therefore, is crucial support for our lab, and it allows us to be ‘avant-garde,’ for example, to come up with crazy ideas and risky experiments that no one ever tried.”

The fellowship allows its recipients to use their grant for anything they think may benefit their research.

“The Packard Fellowship is not a normal grant — it offers the freedom to be innovative and a lifetime membership to an inspiring community of scientists that meet yearly to exchange results,” van der Veen said.  

Martin Gruebele, chemistry department head, said van der Veen leads a world-class research program in materials chemistry in the Materials Research Lab.

“Chemistry in particular, and Illinois overall, has done very well in securing Packard Fellowships for our young colleagues,” Gruebele said in an email. “Such attention to our young colleagues really pays off.”

According to the Packard Fellowship website, previous recipients have gone on to win Nobel Prizes in chemistry and physics, the Alan T. Waterman Award, MacArthur Fellowships and the Fields Medal.

Prashant Jain, associate head of major projects in chemistry, has worked closely with van der Veen in professional settings.

“I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with someone with her admirable level of expertise in ultrafast microscopy and a boldness for undertaking challenging experiments,” Jain said in an email.

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