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Cava Postdoc Wins Blavatnik Award

Awards- - By Wendy Plump

Daniel Straus, a postdoctoral researcher in the Cava Lab, has won a 2021 Blavatnik Regional Award for Young Scientists, a distinction honoring outstanding postdoctoral scientists from academic institutions in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

The award is administered by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences. The announcement coincides with this week’s celebration of National Postdoc Appreciation Week.

Straus was the honoree in the chemistry category.

A materials chemist, Straus won for identifying a structural instability in a promising new solar cell material known as cesium lead iodide. His discovery “lays a foundation for the possible development of a new type of stable solar cell made from this material,” according to a press release for the Foundation.

Straus also demonstrated that simple, highly symmetric molecules can self-assemble into chiral materials.

Chosen by a jury of leading scientists, Straus and the two other winners will each receive a $30K unrestricted prize. Awards are given out in the areas of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering, and Chemistry. The competition included over 150 nominees from 24 academic institutions.

Six regional finalists were also named, including Princeton postdoc Xiaoming Zhao of Chemical and Biological Engineering.


Daniel Straus

Daniel Straus shooting a pre-award interview at Frick with the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

Photo by Wendy Plump

“I was very surprised I won this award. It is meaningful to me because it acknowledges the impact of my work to the chemistry community at-large,” said Straus, who filmed a short interview for the Foundation at Frick last month. “Solid-state chemistry and physical chemistry are not what most people think of as ‘real chemistry.’ The Cava lab doesn’t look like a normal chemistry lab, and my work hardly uses conventional chemistry techniques or usual tools like round bottom flasks.

“Winning this award is a reminder that my research is relevant and important to the greater chemistry community.”

Robert Cava, the Russell Wellman Moore Professor of Chemistry, had this to say about Straus: “Daniel is a very smart young man and has a bright future ahead of him. I am sure that he will be an excellent researcher, mentor, and teacher, and will bring honor to wherever he ends up.

“I hate to see people like Daniel leave my group and move on in the world, but it is a pleasure to have them around for a while. I am not only thankful to Daniel for stopping here on his way through life, but also to everyone who has mentored him on his way.”

The awards are announced annually.

“On behalf of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, I congratulate this year’s postdoctoral winners and finalists,” said Len Blavatnik, founder and chairman of Access Industries, head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation and member of the President’s Council of the New York Academy of Sciences. “These young scientists are working at the forefront of science and technology in the New York area, one of the most dynamic and innovative scientific regions in the world. We proudly salute their academic excellence and await their many future scientific achievements.”

Owing to COVID-19 restrictions, Straus and other winners will receive their in-person awards at the 2022 New York Academy of Sciences Annual Gala.

Here is a link to Straus’ video interview.

Read the full press release on the Blavatnik Regional Awards.