The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation Names Tony Pan and Max Mankin 2016 Strauss Award Winners

March 7, 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 Tony Pan and Max Mankin as the 2016 Strauss Award winners. Pan and Mankin were nominated by Hertz Fellows Dr. Dan Goodman and Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, and were ultimately selected for the tremendous work they have done to revolutionize electric power generation and their effort to find a solution to an issue that impacts everyone around the globe: energy consumption. The two Hertz Fellows founded Modern Electron, a start-up company based in Seattle, with the goal of generating inexpensive, modular, reliable electricity for use worldwide.

“Both Tony and Max are remarkable scientists and engineers, and their partnership – and the resulting company – is a perfect example of the power of the Hertz Foundation network,” said Dr. Goodman, director of advanced technology, Tokyo Electron Ltd. “Modern Electron was incubated for three years at Intellectual Ventures, led by Hertz Fellow Dr. Myhrvold, and has since grown into its own remarkable entity. In the short term, inexpensive modular electricity is needed for a variety of civilian and military applications. Longer term, I expect that Tony and Max’s creativity and technical leadership will allow Modern Electron to commercialize revolutionary energy-related products to help the US and the world.”

“Modern Electron is working on a potentially very important new route to inexpensive, safe, and universally-accessible energy,” said Dr. Myhrvold, founder and CEO of Intellectual Ventures. “It rethinks the world’s dependence on mechanical heat engines as the prime movers of our civilization—an idea that dates back to the time of Watt and Carnot. I was excited to work with Tony and Max in creating this startup. Both Tony and Max embody the best characteristics of Hertz Fellows: technical brilliance paired with enormous creativity, a spirit of collaboration, and a passion to improve the world. I heartily recommended them for this award, and it’s gratifying to see their good work recognized by the Hertz Foundation.”

Most of the electricity generated worldwide today is still based on 19th century technology, including turbines and mechanical engines. Founded in 2015, Modern Electron has reimagined heat-to-electricity generators in the context of modern nanofabrication, materials science and vacuum science. By taking advantage of Moore’s Law and using semiconductor fabrication to make ultra-compact heat engines with no moving parts, Modern Electron is enabling scalable, highly efficient, quieter and ultimately less expensive power generation. The company’s technology is supported by 14 patents, with an additional 20+ patents pending, and secured more than $10 million of venture capital funding.

“We are continually proud of the exceptional accomplishments of Hertz Fellows and both Tony and Max are prime examples of the brilliant, disruptive minds we seek,” said Robbee Baker Kosak, president, the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. “The Hertz Foundation supports PhD candidates because we believe those who complete the degree possess creativity, perseverance and a willingness to fail, learn from the failure and try again—the very characteristics essential to disrupting the status quo and developing solutions to challenging real-world problems. Modern Electron is leading the charge to transform electric power generation and help solve global energy consumption issues. We are delighted to honor Tony and Max as our Strauss Award winners.”

Pan is an inventor on more than 200 patents and patents pending. He was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science class of 2015, and is a global shaper and member of the Global Future Council on Energy of the World Economic Forum. He earned a PhD in physics from Harvard, where he held three national fellowships from the Hertz, Soros, and National Science Foundations. Mankin is an inventor on 18 patents and patents pending and was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science class of 2016. He earned a PhD in chemistry from Harvard, where he held two national fellowships from the Hertz and National Science Foundations.

“I have been fascinated by science and technology since childhood and it is a dream come true to bring positive change to the world by pursuing my passion for technology,” said Max Mankin, co-founder and CTO, Modern Electron. “To call the PhD process rigorous and challenging are understatements, and the support of the Hertz Foundation was invaluable to give us the freedom to think differently and explore new opportunities. Our technology is truly revolutionary and the Modern Electron team is just getting started.”

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.