International award recognizes engineer for cellulose research contributions

September 2, 2022

By Sarah Small

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Seong Kim, Distinguished Professor in Chemical Engineering and associate head of the department at Penn State, was named this year’s recipient of the Hayashi Jisuke Prize from the Cellulose Society of Japan.

The award is given to “up-and-coming researchers from Japan and overseas who are making significant contributions to the development of cellulose science and technology” and who also promote “efforts in international exchange activities,” according to the Cellulose Society’s website. Kim was the only researcher recognized this year.

According to the same website, Kim, who is also a professor of materials science and engineering in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, was selected for his contributions to the “development of structural analysis method for cell walls and structural polysaccharides by sum frequency generation spectroscopy.”

“Seong’s pioneering work already has and will continue to contribute to the advancement of critical cellulose research,” said Phil Savage, interim associate vice president for research at Penn State, who was the chemical engineering department head at the time that Kim was notified of this award. “Seong and other chemical engineering researchers at Penn State are doing important work, and I am glad it is receiving well-deserved international recognition.”

Sum frequency generation, or nonlinear optical spectroscopy, involves shining one visible and one infrared light onto a surface, where they mix and create a sum frequency. Through the sum frequency, researchers can learn more about the surface. Kim was the first to use this method to analyze plant cell walls. 

Kim’s group “has been explicating the structure of cellulose in plant cell walls and biomass to advance fundamental knowledge needed to understand the formation of cell walls with specific structures and biological functions and better utilize cellulose in biomass for production of function chemicals,” according to the Cellulose Society’s journal, Cellulose Communications.

Kim and his team recently developed a theoretical algorithm to predict SFG responses of cellulose, which will “enhance analytical capability to reveal structure-property relations of cellulose in plant cell walls, lignocellulosic biomass, and other cellulose-containing biomaterials,” according to the journal. 

“I am so humbled and honored to receive this prestigious award,” said Kim, who is also affiliated with the Penn State Materials Research Institute. “I have been fortunate to work with talented graduate students and colleagues to achieve this major breakthrough in cellulose structure analysis using nonlinear optical spectroscopy, so the recognition should be shared with all of them. Especially, I acknowledge Dr. Yoshi Nishiyama at CERMAV, France, who provided various samples for our study and nominated me for this award.”


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