My Hang Huynh
High Explosives Science and Technology Group, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Age: 45 at time of award
Published January 28, 2007
My Hang Huynh is a scientist working at the boundary of organic and inorganic chemistry to devise novel techniques for synthesizing highly energetic compounds. Energetic compounds such as explosives are employed in a wide variety of applications but pose hazards in two respects: thermostability and environmental contamination. Huynh has developed a new class of reactions based on constituents such as azides and alkynes that address both issues. The thermodynamic properties of substances she has synthesized make them remarkably stable under a wide temperature range, and their structure allows the substitution of toxic heavy metals such as lead or mercury with more benign elements like copper and iron. Moreover, the methods that she has developed highlight the potential for nitrogen-based reaction centers to serve as the backbone in the synthesis of complex molecules, challenging the orthodoxy of synthetic approaches based on covalent carbon bonding in organic chemistry. Huynh's advances also promise to improve the safety of workers, such as miners and military personnel, who are chronically exposed to energetic materials. In addition, the large amount of inert nitrogen gas generated in the detonation of her novel compounds suggests the possibility of new safety applications, including fire prevention in malfunctioning jet engines and improved air bag design.
My Hang Huynh received a B.A. (1991) and a B.S. (1991) from the State University of New York at Geneseo and a Ph.D. (1998) from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Since 2002, she has been a chemist in the High Explosives Science and Technology Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Her papers have been published in such journals as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Inorganic Chemistry, and the Journal of the American Chemical Society.