People in the Spotlight – Announcing the Winner of the 2024 Ulrich Award

First awarded in 1991, the Ulrich Awards recognise outstanding contributions in sol-gel science and technology made by young researchers and are granted every second year in remembrance of the transformational contri-butions of Dr Donald Ulrich to our community. Candidates to be considered for Ulrich Awards are initially nominated by members of the ISGS community, with awardees then selected from among the nominees via a trans-parent and democratic vote of a distinguished committee selected by the ISGS Board. 

The ISGS Board of Directors is delighted to announce that Professor Bin Cai (China) has been selected as the winner of the 2024 Ulrich Award. Professor Cai obtained his PhD (with summa cum laude) from Technische Uni-versitat Dresden under Prof. Alexander Eychmueller in 2017. The PhD thesis was recognised by the Dr. Walter  Seipp Prize in 2018. He then continued his career as a postdoc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Profs. Yuriy Roman and Yang Shao Horn (2017-2019), and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with Drs Chun Long Chen and James De Yoreo (2019-2020). In 11/2020, he joined Shandong University as a Professor of Chemistry and his current research interest focuses on nanocrystals, electrochemistry and analytical chemistry. 

1.Development of hierarchical aerogels. Self-assembly of nanocrystals into monolithic aerogels through a controlled sol-gel process represents a promising way of designing 3D nanostructures. Among them, hierarchical aerogel are ob-tained by the structural manipulation at the nanoscale of typical aerogels. Previously, aerogel research focuses on the design of aerogels based on various materials, with less attention to nanoscale structural tuning. Our work ad-dressed this challenge by reporting: 

• Metal aerogels with hollow structured backbones (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. (2015), 54(44),13101-13105; https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.201505307); 

• Multimetallic aerogels with tunable nanostructured back bones (from hollow to dendritic shapes, Adv. Mater. (2017), 29(11), 1605254; https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.201605254); 

• Core-shell metal aerogel, which was achieved by a post-gelation strategy (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. (2018), 57(11), 2963-2966; https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.201710997).

2. Development of a solid-state gelation strategy for the synthesis of perovskite oxide aerogels (Chem. Mater. (2019), 31(22), 9422-9429; https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.chemmater.9b03182). This novel approach utilizes carbon as a ‘solvent’, enabling gelation through fast calcination at high temperatures without liquids. This work was highlighted by Feng et al (Chem. Soc. Rev., (2021), 50(6), 3842-3888; https://doi.org/10.1039/c9cs00757a), who indicated that “the preparation methods of aerogels can be categorised into three major types. The first is a solid phase route that can be used to prepare perovskite oxide aerogels”.

3. Mechanistic studies in electrochemistry taking advantage of the unique feature of nanocrystal aero-gels: 

• Demonstrated the first experimental evidence of inter-particle charge transfer between quantum dots, which basically solved a nearly 20-year controversy in the field of electrochemiluminescence (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. (2023), 62(2), e202214487; https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.202214487); 

• Realized the regulation of electronic structure of single-atoms on metal aerogels while keeping its geometric environment unaltered (Adv. Mater. (2023), 35(14), 2211512; https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.202211512). 

As is the case with our other awards, Professor Cai’s Ulrich Awards will be celebrated by the international sol-gel community when we gather at the International Sol-Gel Conference in Berlin during September 2024. In the meantime, please join with the ISGS Board in offering congratulations for the career achievements that have led to this award, and we look forward to celebrating his success with him in person in Berlin .