Co-Founder of Open Water Power Named 2017 Strauss Award Winner by The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation

July 27, 2017
Hertz Staff
Livermore, Calif

The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering America’s most brilliant scientific minds, today announced Ian McKay as the 2017 Strauss Award winner. McKay was nominated by Dr. Lowell Wood, Hertz Fellow Dr. David Tuckerman and Hertz Fellow Dr. Philip Eckhoff for his outstanding work pushing the limits of battery power. McKay is the lead inventor of a revolutionary aluminum-based battery that offers 10 times the energy of lithium-ion batteries in a safe, compact design. It is ideal for use in unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) used by the United States Navy, as well as ocean science research and the oil & gas industry, enabling greater range and battery life with a better safety profile. The new battery design is being refined and commercialized by Open Water Power Incorporated, which McKay co-founded with Tom Milnes. The company was recently acquired by L3 Technologies and is now known as L3 Open Water Power.

“Ian is unquestionably one of the most outstanding Hertz Fellows of his generation, signaled by his exceptional technical-inventive record and his extraordinary entrepreneurial activity,” said Lowell Wood, a consulting inventor of Intellectual Ventures, America’s most prolific inventor in terms of patents granted by the Patent Office—and an honorary Hertz Fellow. “Ian’s efforts—while still a student!—have resulted in one of the most promising developments in the underwater electric power supply field in decades, and will surely energize remarkable, hitherto-inaccessible feats in marine engineering. His rare combination of native brilliance, outstanding education and inclination to sustained hard work make clear that he’ll be one of the most exceptional techno-entrepreneurs of his times.”

“Ian’s natural curiosity and amazing energy allowed him to simultaneously continue to develop his aluminum-water energy system, help build a company and pursue his PhD,” said David Tuckerman, principal technology consultant at Tuckerman & Associates and Hertz Fellow. “Ian offers the ultimate example of the power of the Hertz Fellowship to unleash innovation by offering outstanding students flexibility, generous funding and the freedom to pursue their dreams.”

“Ian McKay combines tremendous insight and ingenuity with the skill, knowledge, energy, and perseverance required to follow a great idea through to success,” said Philip Eckhoff, research scientist and principal investigator at Intellectual Ventures and Hertz Fellow. “His creativity, system understanding, and entrepreneurial energy vividly illustrate Hertz Foundation ideals.”

Ian McKay and his team at Open Water Power developed a revolutionary aluminum-water platform technology for undersea power generation that has unlocked the potential of this chemistry that has been unrealized in the past.

“Ian and I met at MIT in a senior design class in which he was a student and I was the Teaching Assistant. Ian’s curiosity and independent thinking were apparent early on, and over the course of several months he knocked down one of the major historical challenges of the Al-H2O couple.” said Tom Milnes, President and General Manager of L3 Open Water Power, and co-founder and former CEO of Open Water Power. “Ian and I graduated from MIT at the same time, and with the help of some funding from the US DoD we decided to spin the technology out. It wasn’t long before the student became the teacher, and I’ve been learning from Ian ever since. Ian has a remarkable ability to do research-grade science both inside and outside of academia; Open Water’s original lab space at a Boston incubator was incredibly modest, but it was in that space that we made some of our biggest technical advancements.”

McKay is an inventor on 19 patents and patents pending. He is co-founder and former CTO of Open Water Power, headquartered in Massachusetts and renamed L3 Open Water Power following the acquisition. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is currently pursuing his PhD in chemical engineering at Stanford, where he holds two fellowships: The Hertz Fellowship and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. McKay’s PhD research includes working on new energy conversion chemistries and catalyst materials.

“I am humbled to receive the Strauss Award. Previous winners are real giants,” said McKay. “The Hertz Foundation provides invaluable opportunities for us Fellows to learn from one another and drive our research forward. The whole Hertz community is full of exceptionally interesting people—I feel very fortunate to be part of it.”

The $5,000 Peter Strauss Award is given to an in-school or recently graduated Hertz Fellow who has demonstrated exceptional leadership in his or her entrepreneurial endeavors. Criteria used for the Award include major patents granted, new company formation, national recognition for inventions or significant licensing agreements established. The Hertz Foundation Board of Directors established the Award in 2010 through a gift from Harold Newman, a long-serving Hertz Foundation board member. Newman was a long-time associate of Peter Strauss, who died in 2010 at the age of 89. Both were supporters of the Hertz Foundation for many decades, serving on its Board and as financial advisors to the Foundation while senior associates at Neuberger Berman.

“Hertz Fellows possess exceptional intellect and are extraordinarily curious, creative, and driven innovators whose work has and will continue to bring transformational breakthroughs to the world,” said Robbee Baker Kosak, president, the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. “Tackling significant problems facing us today requires a vision to see a solution others may not have seen or the ability to synthesize knowledge from multiple disciplines in a new way, creating a solution not previously identified or seen as possible. In addition, ultimate breakthroughs require an unrelenting willingness to push well beyond the limits of today’s reality. At a young age, Ian is already on a path to become a standout among this extraordinary group of science and technology leaders known as Hertz Fellows. We are thrilled to recognize Ian’s achievements with our Strauss Award.”

The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation
The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation is a not-for-profit organization changing the world around us by granting freedom of American scientific research and innovation through fellowship and financial support. Celebrating 60 years in 2017, the Hertz Fellowship is the most exclusive fellowship program in the world. Our 1,200 Hertz Fellows are the leaders, shapers and disruptors of American science, engineering and mathematics. For more information on the Hertz Foundation and the innovations led by our Hertz Fellows please visit