Chemistry professor Fred Wudl, whose team was the first to create an effective organic solar cell, was awarded the Spiers Memorial Award for his 40-year research work on carbon-based electronics.
Dedicated to expanding international conferences in chemistry and related fields, the Spiers Memorial Award honors one esteemed scientist each year with an honorary medal, over $3,300 and the opportunity to speak at a Faraday Discussion. Wudl will be presenting his research on electroactive materials and plastic electronics as the opening speaker for the 174th Faraday Discussion, to take place from Sept. 8 to 10 in Glasgow, Scotland.
The Royal Society of Chemistry — the British parallel to the American Chemical Society — has hosted the Faraday Discussions for over 100 years. The forums host international, interdisciplinary discussions on topics of physical chemistry, biophysical chemistry and chemical physics.
Following the technology boom at the end of the 20th century, Wudl’s career was directed toward researching organic alternatives to silicon for semi-conductors. Wudl and his colleagues discovered the semi-conductor properties of the conjugated polymer polyacetylene, previously only known as an insulator. The findings were significant in the technology industry, as semi-conductors can power electronics more effectively than insulators.
Wudl currently works to improve organic solar cells by focusing his research on properties of conjugated polymers such as polyacetylene. He studies the chemistry of fullerenes, hollow carbon spheres similar in structure to graphite that are currently used in organic solar cells. Wudl also researches design and preparation of self-mending and self-healing materials.
Since receiving his Ph.D. from UCLA, Wudl has won numerous awards, attended conferences around the world and has been cited in over 500 scientific publications. Wudl said a notable triumph in his career involved the development of an organic solar cell was accomplished with physics professor Alan Heeger and other colleagues.
“My colleagues and I at UCSB were the first to create a reasonably effective organic solar cell,” Wudl said.
In an email, Chancellor Henry T. Yang said the university is “thrilled and honored” to have Wudl formally recognized as an esteemed scientific leader.
“His innovative research and discoveries in the field of organic electroactive materials and plastic electronics, in addition to his many other academic contributions over the past three decades, are invaluable to our university and the global scientific community,” Yang said.
According to Yang, Wudl and his wife are also generous donors to the university, as they endowed the Fred and Linda Wudl Chair, a materials science professorship in the College of Engineering.
“Fred is an inspiration to colleagues and students alike, and we are fortunate to have him in our UCSB family,” Yang said.
Craig J. Hawker, co-director of the Materials Research Lab, said Wudl’s work has allowed the materials department to grow at an unprecedented rate. According to Hawker, Wudl is a “true pioneer” and has “contributed significantly to technologies ranging from photovoltaic systems to organic electronic devices.”
“Fred’s impact on UCSB has been stunning, and the current success of campus in the broad materials arena can be traced back to his vision and numerous collaborations,” Hawker said.


A version of this story appeared on page 5 of Wednesday, May 14, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.