Earlier than being awarded the Koç College Rahmi M. Koç Medal of Science in her native Turkey, Bilge Yildiz was nervous. However it wasn’t standing in entrance of an viewers of lots of that burdened the Breene M. Kerr Professor within the departments of Nuclear Science and Engineering and of Supplies Science and Engineering (DMSE). It wasn’t having to do interviews with journalists. Reasonably, it was discussing her analysis in Turkish.
“Two weeks earlier than the award ceremony, I used to be studying Turkish once more,” says Yildiz. Her language of scholarship is English; she got here to the US greater than twenty years in the past, first to do her PhD in nuclear science at MIT, then postdoctoral work in electrochemistry and analysis at Argonne Nationwide Laboratory in Illinois. Even her bachelor’s research in nuclear science at Hacettepe College in Turkey, the place many programs are taught in English, weren’t in her mom tongue. “I didn’t study these supplies in Turkish. I by no means talked about them in Turkish. And all of the technical phrases particularly — I had no thought.”
However Yildiz isn’t recognized for shying away from new issues.
Educated as a nuclear scientist, utilizing synthetic intelligence algorithms to soundly function nuclear energy crops, she ventured into electrochemistry, finding out the chemical reactions that use or make electrical energy. Her lab in the present day works on a huge array of projects, all centered on the motion of charged atoms in supplies. They embrace human-intelligence-inspired laptop processors; gas cells, which convert hydrogen and oxygen into electrical energy; and electrolysis, which makes use of electrical energy to trigger chemical reactions — for instance, to supply hydrogen and different helpful industrial chemical substances. She not too long ago contributed to a NASA venture to show the carbon dioxide within the Martian environment into oxygen, charting one course towards human habitation on Mars.
Named an American Bodily Society Fellow in 2021 and a Royal Society of Chemistry Fellow in 2022, Yildiz has been acknowledged the world over, however by no means within the nation of her beginning — till December, when Koç College made her the seventh recipient of the annual award. The Rahmi M. Koç Medal of Science acknowledges scientists of Turkish origin youthful than 50 who’ve made excellent contributions to their fields. It’s given to individuals from numerous disciplines, from organic and bodily sciences and engineering to social sciences.
Yildiz is the second MIT scholar awarded the medal. Institute Professor Daron Acemoglu, within the Division of Economics, was recognized in 2017 for contributions to labor and political economics and macroeconomics.
“An excellent honor”
In introducing Yildiz on the award ceremony on the Rahmi M. Koç Museum in Istanbul, Koç College professor Umran Inan spoke of the need for visionaries who’re comfy working throughout disciplines.
“She is a really younger and terribly profitable researcher and scientist who can mix totally different disciplines and outputs to acquire novel and impactful outcomes,” Inan mentioned.
For Yildiz, being acknowledged in her house nation was a “nice honor.” And in Turkey, whose economic system has been devastated by runaway inflation and a collapsing forex, recognition of the significance of scientific analysis is an effective signal.
“It is a possibility for individuals in Turkey to get to learn about my work and my story,” she mentioned. “I’m additionally hoping that this motivates younger college students, that it exhibits them what’s attainable irrespective of the place you come from.”
Yildiz is from Tire, a rural district about 60 miles southeast of Izmir. The area is understood for its agriculture and dairy, particularly milk and yogurt. After the award ceremony, which was coated by scores of journalists asking for interviews and snapping pictures, Yildiz joked that she’d turn out to be “as well-known as Tire dairy merchandise.”
As pleased as Yildiz is for the popularity her work has gotten, she burdened that it’s the science that’s necessary.
“I don’t need to go away the message that for younger individuals to really feel they’re profitable they should win awards,” she mentioned. “Scientists don’t do their science to win awards. We do it to fulfill our curiosity. It offers us power, and we contribute to society this fashion. That ought to be the precedence. I really feel fortunate and grateful day by day for the alternatives that enabled me to turn out to be a scientist and work with sensible and motivated college students, younger scientists, and colleagues at MIT.”
A loyal scientist, mentor
Yildiz’s colleagues and college students described a hardworking researcher and instructor dedicated to relaying her ardour for science to others.
“I definitely acknowledged that she had one thing quite particular in her potential to actually take and grasp each the experimental strategies wanted and the theoretical facets,” mentioned John Kilner, a former professor and now senior analysis investigator at Imperial Faculty London, who labored with Yildiz on surfaces of oxides in gas cells, in her early days in academia. “She attracted a variety of very vibrant younger individuals, and that makes an enormous distinction to your analysis group to get these individuals and to foster them as nicely.”
Kilner spoke in a video about Yildiz collectively produced by Koç College and MIT Video Productions.
Yang Shao-Horn, the JR East Professor of Engineering within the Division of Mechanical Engineering and DMSE, says Yildiz is an completed advisor who appears to be like out for the pursuits of her college students.
“She’s a deeply caring mentor who appears to be like at people and helps them, asking robust questions and searching for alternatives to make them develop professionally and scientifically,” says Shao-Horn, who suggested Yildiz on her postdoctoral work. “That is actually an necessary a part of being a professor. We do analysis and we conduct analysis tasks and we write papers — and these are all instruments, mechanisms to coach individuals and empower individuals and produce the most effective out of individuals. And I believe Bilge is a superb position mannequin in doing so.”
Miranda Schwacke, a graduate scholar in Yildiz’s analysis group, pointed to her advisor’s dedication to utilizing science to construct a greater, cleaner society.
“One of many foremost methods she evokes me is that she actually cares about not simply making batteries or gas cells or no matter we work on higher,” Schwacke says, “but additionally actually understanding what is going on on and precisely how we’re making issues higher, which I believe is a greater strategy, long run.”
Shao-Horn famous that Yildiz, a mom of two, can be an inspiration for girls in academia searching for a stability between work and residential life.
“Bilge is an unbelievable position mannequin for a lot of feminine and different scientists who need to have the ability to do each — to have an incredible profession but additionally have a cheerful household,” Shao-Horn says. “And that requires actually laborious work and self-discipline.”