U.S. Education Department Honors Inspirational Prof
Former NanoExplorer's Nomination Resulted in DC Honor for Dr. Ken Balkus

Dr. Ken Balkus, professor of chemistry at UT Dallas, has received a 2012 Teacher Recognition Award from the U.S. Department of Education.

Plano East High School student Amy Chyao, who was one of 141 high-school seniors nationwide chosen as 2012 Presidential Scholars, selected Balkus for the honor. Each scholar selects his or her “most inspiring and unforgettable teacher” to receive the Teacher Recognition Award.

Chyao joined UT Dallas’s NanoExplorers research program for high-school students in the summer of 2009. Working under Balkus’ mentorship, Chyao created semiconducting nanoparticles that, when exposed to certain wavelengths of light, generate a highly reactive form of oxygen that is deadly to cancer cells.

Photodynamic therapy, as it is called, already is used to treat some skin cancers, but the particles Chyao developed might one day allow the targeted light therapy to penetrate deeper into the body. Her research in Balkus’ lab earned Chyao the top prize in the 2010 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

“The hope is that university research experience will inspire students to seek careers in science and engineering,” said Balkus, who has been working with high-school students for nearly 25 years. “Some of these students make significant intellectual contributions to the research and become co-authors on publications. Amy Chyao was one of those special students.

“The teacher recognition is great, but a bigger reward is seeing Amy’s success,” he said.

Balkus and Chyao travelled to Washington, D.C., in June to attend recognition events for the Presidential Scholars and their teachers. Balkus also received a commemorative plaque.

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, a group of private citizens appointed by the President, selects scholars based on their accomplishments in academics or the arts. The program was created in 1964. Since 1983, each scholar has had the opportunity to invite one of their outstanding teachers to the annual ceremony hosted by the Department of Education, where educators are honored with the Teacher Recognition Award.

Amy Chyao (center), a 2012 Presidential Scholar from Plano East High School, chose Dr. Ken Balkus (right), UT Dallas professor of chemistry, to receive a Teacher Recognition Award from the U.S. Department of Education. Dr. Marina McCarthy, chair of the Commission on Presidential Scholars, posed with the pair at a the Washington, D.C., event.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].