Lee Penn named a Distinguished McKnight University Professor

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (03/29/2022)—Professor Lee Penn has been selected as a recipient of the Distinguished McKnight University Professorship, an award designed to recognize exceptional mid-career faculty. The University-wide program seeks to honor and reward the most distinguished and highest-achieving mid-career faculty who have recently attained full professor status.

Penn leads a world class interdisciplinary research program focused on problems at the intersections of chemistry, Earth science, materials science and engineering, and sustainability. Their group has an extensive record studying fundamental crystal growth, focusing both on crystal growth in natural environments as well as the synthesis of materials for use in technologies related to sustainable energy. A second area in which the group has had outstanding impact is studying how natural and synthetic nanoparticles participate in chemical reactions, with particular focus on how nanoparticles participate in chemical reactions that occur in groundwater and surficial water.

Penn was nominated for the award by David Blank, head of the chemistry department, who highlighted their exceptional research, extensive collaborations, and commitment to diversity. “Prof. Penn consistently goes well beyond the regular expectations for research, teaching, and service, demonstrating passionate commitments to the advancement of nanoscience and nanotechnology, environmental chemistry and the advancement of diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).”

Penn served as the founding Chair of the department’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which was formed in 2013. Under their leadership, this committee has transformed undergraduate course design, overall department climate, hiring, and student advising. As Director of Undergraduate Studies since 2017, Penn has consistently provided outstanding service to chemistry majors and to the thousands of students from across the institution that take chemistry classes every semester. They have led the efforts to improve advising and service to the students, with an emphasis on building a more inclusive environment.

Recipients are honored with the title Distinguished McKnight University Professor, which they hold for as long as they remain at the University of Minnesota, and receive a grant of $120,000 over five years to use for research, scholarly, or artistic activities. The McKnight Awards are made possible by generous donations from the McKnight Foundation.