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‘Revolutionary’: Campus alumna Danna Freedman receives 2022 ‘genius grant’

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Freedman receives immense support from mentors and colleagues who all speak to her merit in receiving the grant.


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NOVEMBER 09, 2022

UC Berkeley alumna Danna Freedman, who has pioneered research applying synthetic chemistry to quantum information science, has been named a recipient of a 2022 MacArthur Fellowship.

Referred to as the “genius grant,” the MacArthur Fellowship awards recipients across a variety of disciplines with $800,000 over a five-year period and allows recipients to spend the money as they see fit. The grant recognizes 20 to 30 individuals demonstrating “exceptional creativity” each year, according to the MacArthur Foundation’s website.

Having earned her PhD from UC Berkeley in 2009, Freedman presently works as the F.G. Keyes Professor of Chemistry at MIT and as an associate editor for the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“I am overjoyed, flummoxed, and grateful to receive this award,” Freedman said in an email. “It is a tremendous honor which I could not have received without the dedicated exceptional work of the graduate students and postdocs in my lab, and my own mentors who guided and supported me.”

In her research, Freedman uses synthetic chemistry to create molecules that act as quantum bits — the foundational units of quantum computing systems.

According to campus Associate Project Scientist David Harris, who is Freedman’s husband and long-time collaborator, Freedman’s “revolutionary” work allows quantum information science to be conducted with molecules as opposed to traditionally used solid state materials.

“It’s the most notable career award that anyone I know has gotten,” Harris said. “To have it happen to my spouse makes it great. But, I’m not surprised because, this fearlessness to go after big ideas and do completely new things, that’s Danna’s approach.”

Similarly, W. Hill Harman, an associate professor of chemistry at UC Riverside, described Freedman as unique in her “fearlessness.”

Harman also lauded Freedman’s level of success as a woman in a field historically dominated by men.

Jeffrey Long, campus professor of chemistry and chemical & biomolecular engineering, described Freedman as “absolutely deserving” of the fellowship. As a graduate student on campus, Freedman worked in Long’s research lab where she formed the wide network of collaborators she works with today — including Harris.

“I learned how to be a scientist as a graduate student at Berkeley,” Freedman said. “Attending seminars across fields and listening to my peers discuss the core challenges in their research helped me think broadly about the chemistry that interested me.”

Both Harris and Harman noted that Freedman’s receipt of the fellowship is impressive given the MacArthur grant recognizes both scientific and artistic fields.

Harman added that Freedman’s expertise in synthetic chemistry requires “creativity and craft,”  making the multidisciplinary fellowship “particularly fitting” for her work.

“It’s a testament of the MacArthur Foundation’s view of the broad importance of Danna’s work,” Harris said of the fellowship. “It’s not only impactful within chemistry or within science, it’s broadly impactful within society.”

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NOVEMBER 09, 2022