Lee Penn

portrait of Professor Lee Penn

Lee Penn

Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Distinguished University Teaching Professor, Merck Professor of Chemistry, College of Science & Engineering Distinguished Professor, Institute on the Environment Resident Fellow, Department of Chemistry


Smith Hall
Room 225
207 Pleasant Street Se
Minneapolis, MN 55455


B.S. Beloit College, 1992

Ph.D. University of Wisconsin, 1998

Post Doctorate Johns Hopkins University, 1998-2000

Research Interests

Experimental Physical Chemistry: nanocrystalline materials

Nanoscience & Materials Chemistry: nanoparticles

Environmental & Green Chemistry: mineral surface chemistry

Research Page

Active research areas in the Penn Group:
  • Elucidate fundamental, particle-mediated crystal growth mechanisms,
  • Characterize chemical reactivity and evolving reactivity of nanoparticles in environmental systems,
  • Reactions for sulfide remediation in sulfide-contaminated water,
  • Fate and transport of microplastics,
  • Oil in water dispersions,
  • Green materials synthesis for applications related to sustainable energy, and
  • Development of smartphone based experiments geared towards use in the field and for middle and high school laboratories.

Students in the Penn group use many state-of-the-art materials characterization methods, including in situ and ex situ transmission electron microscopy (TEM), in combination with a broad suite of correlative methods, to characterize solid-state changes resulting from reactions with both natural and anthropogenic chemicals. This enables us to quantitatively assess reactivity, reactive surface area, and how reactivity and reactive surface area evolve as reactions proceed and solution conditions change. In addition, materials collected from the field are used in parallel experiments so as to enable meaningful comparisons between the field and the lab.

cryogenic transmission electron microscopy of oriented iron oxide nanocrystals ins water
Figure caption: Cryogenic transmission electron microscopy of oriented iron oxide nanocrystals in water. The uniform grey background is vitrified water, and the darker round objects are crystals of iron oxide. Images like these enable us to study crystal growth, nanoparticle aggregation, and more. Image is from Yuwono, V.M.; Burrows, N.D.; Soltis, J.A.; Penn, R.L., (2010). Oriented Aggregation: Formation and Transformation of Mesocrystal Intermediates Revealed, Journal of the American Chemical Society, 132, pp. 2163-2165. DOI 10.1021/ja909769a

Honors and Awards

George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Service, 2020

Merck II Professor of Chemistry, 2017

Community Excellence Award from the University of Minnesota’s Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life

Charlotte Striebel Equity Award from the University Office for Equity and Diversity’s Women’s Center, 2016-17

American Chemical Society Fellow, 2015

Horace T. Morse University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education, 2015

Breaking the Silence Award from the University of Minnesota's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Ally Programs Office, 2014

Institute on the Environment Fellow, 2011-present

McKnight Presidential Fellow, 2008-2011

George Taylor Career Development Award, 2008

Best Chemistry Professor of the Year Award

Institute of Technology Student Organization, 2008

University of Minnesota Thank a Teacher Award, 2007 & 2002

National Science Foundation Career Award, 2004-2009

Mailing Address

Lee Penn
University of Minnesota
Department of Chemistry
B-4, 139 Smith Hall, 207 Pleasant St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455-0431