Wong makes Smithsonian magazine’s prestigious ’37 under 36′ list

Wong makes Smithsonian magazine’s prestigious ’37 under 36′ list
Rice chemical engineer uses nanotechnology to clean the environment

Rice News Staff

Smithsonian magazine has named Rice University chemical engineer Michael Wong to its list of “America’s Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences: 37 Under 36,” which is featured in a special October issue of the magazine.


Wong, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of chemistry, was recognized for creating a new class of palladium-coated gold nanoparticles that can be used to break down chlorinated compounds like trichloroethene (TCE) in polluted groundwater.

TCE, a solvent, is commonly used to degrease metals and electronic parts. It’s also carcinogenic and one of the most common and poisonous organic pollutants in U.S. groundwater. TCE is found at 60 percent of the contaminated waste sites on the Superfund National Priorities List.

Wong’s gold and palladium nanocatalysts break TCE into nontoxic components and have proven to work remarkably well.

“We didn’t believe it at first, because the gold-palladium nanoparticles were just so much more efficient — like, a hundred times more efficient,” Wong told the Smithsonian in an October feature about his research.

His team of researchers includes students Michael Nutt, Kimberly Heck, Yu-lun Fang and Nurgul Ackin, and his collaborators include Rice’s Pedro Alvarez and Georgia Tech’s Joe Hughes.

The Smithsonian issue featuring the 37 Under 36 went on sale at newsstands Oct 15. Those on the list range from scientists and artists to scholars and humanitarians.

This year’s honorees include environmental activist Philippe Cousteau (Jacques Cousteau’s grandson), novelist Daniel Alarcón, mathematician Terence Tao, musician Regina Spektor, primatologist Brian Hare, political historian Jeremi Suri, computer scientist Luis von Ahn, author Z.Z. Packer, playwright Sarah Ruhl and biologist Beth Shapiro.

“So often in our culture, the tendency is to look nostalgically to the past for great thinkers,” said Kerry Bianchi, Smithsonian group publisher. “But the reality is that there are exciting developments going on around us all the time. So often it is simply a matter of bringing the public’s attention to these contributions, and that is what the ‘America’s Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences: 37 Under 36’ initiative does.”

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.