Hertz Thesis Prize: Recognizing the Extraordinary

November 21, 2023
Hertz Thesis Prize winners Hannah Larson (2022) and Kurtis Carsch (2021).

For 42 years running, the Hertz Thesis Prize has been awarded to fellows whose doctoral theses present exemplary research with applications to real-world problems.

Thesis Prize winners are recognized for their willingness to take risks in pursuing their boldest ideas at a formative stage in their careers. The Hertz Thesis Prize represents both the scientific excellence and the dedicated volunteerism that have been hallmarks of the Hertz Community since its inception.

The Hertz Foundation’s Fellowship and Programs Council has overseen the prize since the council’s creation in 2014. Council chair Carol Burns, deputy director for research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Neal Tanner, independent consultant at tntAnalysis, lead the effort to identify hundreds of volunteer reviewers; they recruit both from experts in the broader science and technology community as well as from Hertz Fellows. 

Carol Burns

“From the start of their careers, Hertz Fellows provide vital and principled scientific leadership for our nation.”

Carol Burns Arrow Right
1983 Hertz Fellow

Deputy Director for Research, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

These volunteer reviewers provide the necessary ingredients for evaluating the merits of each submitted thesis from multiple angles: the potential significance of the work, the creativity of the approach, the clarity of the presentation and the degree to which the work persuasively addresses a hypothesis or challenge. The reviewers enjoy connecting with cuttingedge research and learning about what the newest generation of Hertz Fellows is doing.

“Hertz Fellows and friends share our passion for supporting and celebrating our nation’s burgeoning leadership in boundarybreaking science and innovation,” said Robbee Baker Kosak, president of the Hertz Foundation. “By dedicating their time and expertise, Thesis Prize volunteers help advance this extraordinary work toward important, real-world applications.” 

The research performed by the 66 Hertz Thesis Prize winners to date has led to numerous patents, the formation of successful companies, and immediate solutions for major challenges facing society, from revolutionizing microbial research to streamlining pharmaceutical chemistry. 

“From the start of their careers, Hertz Fellows provide vital and principled scientific leadership for our nation,” Burns said. “I’m proud that we can spotlight the ambitions of one of our promising Hertz Fellows through this award each year.” 

Thesis Prize winners are honored and grateful to be selected, and they recognize the role that the foundation has played in advancing their work. Hertz Fellow Hannah Larson, an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley; Clay Research Fellow at Harvard University; and winner of the 2022 Hertz Thesis Prize, noted that the Hertz Fellowship’s flexibility gave her time that she might not otherwise have had to dive into the mathematical thinking, leading to her winning thesis on Brill–Noether theory over the Hurwitz space. 

“Reflecting back, I realize what a difference the Hertz Fellowship has made in my career. I was able to pursue the questions that interested me most and collaborations that would not otherwise have been possible,” Larson said.

Ravi Sheth, co-founder of the biotechnology company Kingdom Supercultures and 2020 Hertz Thesis Prize winner, doubts he would be on his current trajectory without the support of the Hertz Foundation. “It profoundly impacted how I thought about my long-term career, next steps and potential impact,” Sheth said. 

Hertz Thesis Prize winner Ravi Sheth.

The Hertz Thesis Prize is just one of the ways that fellows are celebrated for their exceptional creative contributions. From the annual engineering challenge at the Hertz Summer Workshop to prizes for entrepreneurial and volunteer pursuits, the council looks to recognize and support fellows throughout their careers.

As our reviewers evaluate the 2023 theses, the Hertz Foundation deeply appreciates the invaluable efforts of volunteers in supporting Hertz Fellows at a pivotal, early time in their promising careers.

2023 Philanthropy Report

We could not achieve our mission without the inspiring support of our donors. Read our 2023 Philanthropy Report for more stories illustrating the extraordinary generosity within the Hertz Community.