Caltech Resonate Awards 2014: Who Won and Why

Written by Gina Smith

At a minute past midnight EDT, Caltech announced its Resonate Award winners. Here’s what each winner is doing for alternative energy tech. Congratulations!

aNewDomain — Lots of hard core alternative energy geeks have been awaiting the news on this one. Today Caltech is announcing the winners of the 2014 Resonate Awards, a contest run by the school’s Resnick Sustainability Institute.

The winners, listed below, are getting recognized for work in several alternative energy arenas: energy storage, smart electric grid mathematics, important steps toward future alternative energy solutions and innovative alternative energy funding models that promote sustainability — across the globe. Scroll below the fold for a list of all the Resonate Award winners and their contributions.

“Innovation in world-changing sustainability, alternative energy, and the environment is often overlooked –- particularly by business, industry, and investors,” Harry Atwater, director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute and Caltech’s Howard Hughes professor of applied physics told aNewDomain as the news broke. He added:

Near-term evolutionary ideas are encouraged because they can impact profitability or address an immediate pain-point. But those ideas that are designed to solve the long term problems facing the planet are mostly passed over because they are hard and their impact may not be seen for decades. Further, while there are many awards for science in general, and for health and computer technology breakthroughs, there is little attention paid to honoring thought-leaders who are on the cusp of big ideas that could provide substantial hope for the future. Change is critical. “

And the winners are:

Thomas Francisco Jaramillo

The Stanford University chemical engineering assistant prof gets recognized for “catalyzing chemical reactions for renewable energy production and storage,” Atwater said. In particular, the work is around atomic-scale-materials creation. The end goal is driving the chemical reactions needed for various means of  renewable energy production and storage. Jaramillo’s work already has led to meaningful discoveries of the catalysts required for renewable hydrogen production from water, and also for converting CO2 into fuels and chemicals in a sustainable manner.

Sarah Kearney

Kearney, who founded and serves as exec director at the PRIME coalition, wins recognition, Atwater said, for her design of “flexible impact-focused investment models.” Kearney’s models are intended to fund key ventures capable of bringing scalable solutions to a variety of the Earth’s social problems. According to Caltech reps, the “fundamental insight (is) that raising capital for complex sustainability problems (needs) a new investment model.”

Shinichi Komaba

A professor of applied chemistry at Tokyo University and a project professor at Kyoto University, Komaba scored the award for researching energy storage methods, including battery storage for EVs and the grid. Komaba’s work has been key in the development of safer LiO2 (Lithium Ion) batteries, as well as improved “high energy sodium-ion batteries that can help grow the EV and grid-scale storage markets,” Atwater told aNewDomain.

Javad Lavaei

Lavaei, a Columbia University assistant professor in electrical engineering, wins the prize for “building a computational backbone to transform the power grid into one that is flexible, smart and dynamic,” reps said. Lavaei is all about the toughest computational challenges around alternative energy. For instance, his work zeroes in on the so-called optimal power flow problem — and other problems requiring keener flexibility, efficiency and design for distributing solar power and other alternative resources.

Jay Whitacre

The Carnegie Mellon associate professor — and also CTO and founder of Aquion Energy — won the award for researching and developing a new method of environmentally-safe and affordable grid-scale energy storage, Caltech reps said. Whitacre’s firm, Aquion, is building off his discoveries and is moving toward commercializing his “breakthrough, cost-effective solution to store energy from intermittent renewables” in order to make “clean power,” Caltech reps said.

Who decided the winners? A team of advisors and execs from such firms as Google, scientists from top national labs, cabinet members from Taiwan, the United States and Japan, and even journalists specializing in the field.

Find more information about the awards and you can get in on them next year here.

We at aNewDomain congratulate all the winners of the Caltech Resnick Sustainability Institute 2014 Resonate Awards. More, please! It’s what we love to see: Honors to humans doing great, deep work in fields that affect all of us, geeks and non-geeks, the world over. Cheers.

For, I’m Gina Smith.

Gina Smith is the New York Times best-selling author of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s memoir, iWoz Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer and Had Fun Doing It (W.W. Norton, 2005/2007/2012). With John C. Dvorak and Jerry Pournelle, she is the editorial director at Email her at, check out her Google + stream here or follow her @ginasmith888.