Alumna awarded huge grant

My-Hang Huynh, a Geneseo alumna who graduated from Geneseo with a B.A. in math and chemistry in 1991, was announced as one of 24 recipients of the 2007 MacArthur Fellowship, a five-year grant of $500,000 to individuals who "show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future," according to the MacArthur Foundation that awarded the grant.

The grant is unique in that it is no-strings-attached. Recipients may use the funds however they wish and do not have to report back to the foundation or devote the money to a specific project. Recipients of the grant are anonymously nominated and often unaware they are even being considered until the winners are announced. Winners of the grant range from historians to poets to public servants. Huynh, a chemist, has been working to develop new techniques for synthesizing explosives that are environmentally-friendly by substituting toxic metals like lead and mercury with more benign elements like copper and iron.

Huynh received her Ph.D. from SUNY Buffalo in 1998 and worked in the High Explosives Science and Technology Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico from 2002 until this past February. She recently left the laboratory setting on permanent disability due to anxiety and hyperventilation, and told Los Alamos newspaper LA Monitor that the award had good timing: "It cannot be any more perfect than now. The best thing that the MacArthur Foundation can give to creative work-lovers is the absolute freedom to convert their unconventional approach to practical breakthroughs."

Huynh arrived in the United States from Vietnam in 1985, speaking no English. After passing the GED exam, she was able to enroll at Geneseo at age 24. She believes that her success has been due to her background in inorganic chemistry. Most scientists who work with explosives are organic chemists - Huynh's background lets her approach traditional problems from a new angle.

Earlier this year, Huynh received the Department of Energy's E.O. Lawrence Award. She is also the establisher of the Vo-Huynh Family Scholarship, a $500 award given to an outstanding Geneseo undergraduate student majoring in chemistry, mathematics or communicative disorders and sciences.