UCLA Leads the Nation in Scientists Named to the “Brilliant 10”; Mathematician Terence Tao and Chemist Omar Yaghi Selected
By Stuart Wolpert September 18, 2006 Category: Research
Omar Yaghi, UCLA professor of chemistry, and Terence Tao, UCLA professor of mathematics, are among "The Brilliant 10" scientists honored by Popular Science magazine in the October 2006 issue. UCLA is the only university to have more than one faculty member selected.
A six-month selection process identified 10 scientists "who are changing not just what we know but the limits of what we think it's possible to know," Popular Science said. Brilliance, the magazine said, "is marked by insight, creativity and tenacity. It's the confidence to eschew established wisdom in order to develop your own."
Popular Science calls Yaghi a "hydrogen nano-architect" whose "research papers rank among the most influential in his field." Yaghi invented a class of materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which have been described as crystal sponges. MOFs have pores — openings on the nanoscale in which Yaghi and his colleagues can store gases that are usually difficult to store and transport.
"Many chemists believe that Yaghi's creations, if suitably tailored to store hydrogen, could lead to the first workable fuel tank for a hydrogen car," Popular Science said. "If you zoomed in a billion times, his substances would look like enormous scaffolds. Materials scientists had seen similar frameworks before, but they couldn't custom-build them for specific purposes."
Popular Science quotes University of South Florida professor Mike Zaworotko as saying "it was a dream" to engineer these frameworks to chemists' specs and "Yaghi was the person who turned it into reality."
As for Tao, Popular Science calls him "math's great uniter" and says that "to Tao, the traditional boundaries between different mathematical fields don't seem to exist." Popular Science describes as "quintessential Tao" a breakthrough in a new field that "requires a mastery of techniques from across the mathematical spectrum. It's this kind of ingenuity that won Tao this year's Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize equivalent in mathematics." Last month, Tao became the youngest person to receive the Fields since 1986.
"He's really taken the math world by storm," the magazine quotes Tony Chan, UCLA's dean of physical sciences, as saying. Tao has made major discoveries in at least five branches of mathematics, the magazine said, and quotes Chan as saying, "the senior people in these fields are scratching their heads in awe."
One of Tao's results "brought an end to a mathematical search that had lasted for centuries," the magazine said. In this research, Tao and co-author Ben Green, professor of mathematics at the University of Bristol in England, "used techniques from several fields to uncover an astonishing pattern among primes"— proving that the prime numbers contain infinitely many progressions of all finite lengths.
For more about Yaghi's research, see http://yaghi.chem.ucla.edu/
For more about Tao's research, see http://www.math.ucla.edu/~tao/index.html
California's largest university, UCLA enrolls approximately 38,000 students per year and offers degrees from the UCLA College of Letters and Science and 11 professional schools in dozens of varied disciplines. UCLA consistently ranks among the top five universities and colleges nationally in total research-and-development spending, receiving more than $820 million a year in competitively awarded federal and state grants and contracts. For every $1 state taxpayers invest in UCLA, the university generates almost $9 in economic activity, resulting in an annual $6 billion economic impact on the Greater Los Angeles region. The university's health care network treats 450,000 patients per year. UCLA employs more than 27,000 faculty and staff, has more than 350,000 living alumni and has been home to five Nobel Prize recipients.