Three Faculty Named Blanchard Early Career Professors

August 24, 2022

The College of Sciences has three new Blanchard Early Career Professors to celebrate: Martin Mourigal, School of Physics; Dobromir “Doby” Rahnev, School of Psychology; and Yuanzhi Tang, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

All three are associate professors. This year marks the first time that the honor, named after the late School of Chemistry and Biochemistry alumnus Elwood P. “Doc” Blanchard (BS CHEM '53, MS CHEM '54), has gone to more than one faculty member in the College. The reasons include a growing endowment fund and an expansion of the honor to make the distinction available to scientists from all six College of Sciences schools. 

“The College of Sciences is very pleased to be able to recognize some of our most outstanding mid-career faculty with the ‘Doc’ Blanchard Professorship,” said Matt Baker, associate dean for Faculty Development for the College and professor in the School of Mathematics. “The Blanchard Early Career Professorship will enhance the College's ability to attract and retain tenure-track faculty members in the early stages of their careers to this position of academic leadership.”

The College of Sciences Dean's Office also recently modified the eligibility criteria for the award, specifying that the Blanchard Professorship would go to an associate professor who is within three years of having received tenure. “The primary criterion for the award was excellence in research. Excellence in mentoring, service, and teaching were also considered,” Baker said. 

Blanchard, who received his B.S. in Chemistry in 1953, earned his M.S. in the same discipline a year later. He joined DuPont in 1959 as a staff member in the company’s research and development division, and rose through management ranks to become vice-chairman of what was then the world’s largest chemical company in terms of sales in 1990. Blanchard was also named chairman of DuPont Canada in 1991. He died in 2021 at the age of 90 at his home in Pennsylvania. 

What was first known as the Blanchard Fellowship was launched in 1999 as a way to honor early career School of Chemistry and Biochemistry scientists. Twenty-two scientists received the award before the 2022 announcements. 

Meet the new Blanchard Professors

Yuanzhi Tang, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

“I'm very honored to receive this professorship,” Tang said, “which was created to celebrate the many contributions that Blanchard made for promoting chemical research.”

Tang’s research group seeks to understand the molecular scale processes of biogeochemical reactions at solid-liquid interfaces, and to connect the observations across spatial and temporal scales in natural and engineered systems.  “This honor will provide important support to test new research ideas and kick off early-stage projects, such as those related to understanding the fate and transport of critical metals in natural environments, resource recovery, and carbon sequestration.”

“Tang’s highly interdisciplinary research focuses on the chemistry of the interface between minerals and natural waters, and has implications for a range of fields such as water quality, sustainable agriculture, and the recycling of battery materials,” Baker said.

Dobromir (Doby) Rahnev, School of Psychology

“I am extremely honored,” Rahnev said. “This professorship will provide invaluable resources in our quest to understand the working of the human mind and brain. My lab seeks to understand the workings of the human visual system by examining different types of neural and behavioral data, as well as building computational models that uncover the underlying mechanisms. The Blanchard Professorship will allow us to secure necessary equipment and personnel to advance this research program.”

“Doby Rahnev’s research in cognitive neuroscience and psychology, specializing in perceptual decision making and processing of sensory information, is groundbreaking,” Baker said.

Martin Mourigal, School of Physics

Mourigal is a leading researcher in neutron scattering techniques that help search for new properties in materials. He recently won the 2022 Science Prize from the Neutron Scattering Society of America “for significant and insightful use of neutron inelastic scattering in the study of quantum materials." 

“Neutron scattering can only be performed on specialized large-scale instruments at national facilities,” he said. “The award will allow my group to get more deeply immersed in the design of next-generation spectrometers,” while also giving Mourigal more flexibility in hiring undergraduate researchers, and building more direct connections to theory collaborators across the U.S.

“It is a very special honor to be chosen for a Blanchard Professorship,” Mourigal said. “I am very excited that the College recognizes my group's work decoding the strange magnetic behavior of quantum materials. My team and I are focusing on fundamental questions about magnetism that do not have direct applications yet but are stringent tests to our understanding of the quantum world. This award comes at a perfect time to accelerate my team's work and support new experimental and modeling work.”