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Seton Hill chemistry prof, CMU grad named to Forbes' '30 under 30' lists

| Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, 11:12 p.m.
Jonathan Moerdyk, a young professor at Seton Hill has been named one of 30 young scientists under 30 by Forbes Magazine, an honor that mirrors one he received two years ago from Scientific American.
Sean Stipp | Trib Total Media
Jonathan Moerdyk, a young professor at Seton Hill has been named one of 30 young scientists under 30 by Forbes Magazine, an honor that mirrors one he received two years ago from Scientific American.
Julia Schwarz, 25, a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University, is collaborating on a start-up company that aims to enhance touchscreen technology by upgrading them to detect what body part you are using on the screen.
Julia Schwarz, 25, a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University, is collaborating on a start-up company that aims to enhance touchscreen technology by upgrading them to detect what body part you are using on the screen.
Julia Schwarz, 25, a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University, is collaborating on a start-up company that aims to enhance touchscreen technology by upgrading them to detect what body part you are using on the screen.
Julia Schwarz, 25, a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University, is collaborating on a start-up company that aims to enhance touchscreen technology by upgrading them to detect what body part you are using on the screen.

They've launched companies, developed groundbreaking software, assembled multi-million dollar investment pools and even developed a new class of carbon-based compounds.

And none of them have celebrated a 30th birthday.

Welcome to Western Pennsylvania's entries on Forbes magazine's new “30 under 30” lists, an inventory of 600 millennials around the globe poised to change the world in 20 areas including sports, science, enterprise technology, energy, education and music.

Jonathan Moerdyk, 28, who came to the region last fall as an assistant chemistry professor at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, was named to Forbes' 2015 “30 under 30 in Science.”

Fresh from the University of Texas where he earned a doctorate in chemistry, Moerdyk has been recognized for his work developing diamidocarbenes, a new class of carbon-based metals.

“The ultimate pie-in-the-sky idea is to use them as catalysts. You have a catalytic converter in your car that takes toxins out of emissions, but the metals it uses can be more expensive and a bit more toxic than organic carbon-based materials. This has some advantages from environmental and economic aspects,” Moerdyk said.

Unlike some scientists, who opt to limit their work to research, Moerdyk, who earned his bachelor's degree at Hope College, a small liberal arts school in his native Michigan, jumped at the opportunity to come to Seton Hill where he could teach.

“It's the best of both worlds. I can interact with students when I teach and interact with students while doing novel research. I couldn't write a better job description,” he said.

Also on the list of rising young stars in the local science community is Julia Schwarz, 25, who earned her doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University's Human Computer Interaction Institute in December and is part of a Pittsburgh-based start-up.

Schwarz, 25, who came to CMU five years ago to begin her graduate studies, is one of three co-founders of a company call Qeexo that aims to expand what can be done with a touch screen by allowing the screen to distinguish between the touch of a fingertip, fingernail or knuckle.

“We hope it will allow you to do more with less effort,” she said in an interview from the company's Centre Avenue offices.

As for making the Forbes list five years before her 30th birthday, Schwarz called it exciting.

“I wondered how on earth I got on the list, but mostly I just thought about my colleagues and friends who enabled me to get there and I was very grateful to them,” she said.

Also on the list were:

• Recent CMU graduates Hahna Alexander and Matt Stanton, both 24, who were included on the list of rising stars in the energy field. The pair founded SolePower, a company that makes an energy-harvesting shoe insert the company boasts can power a smart phone on a 15-mile walk.

• Abe Othman, 29, who received his doctorate in computer science from CMU in 2010 and co-founded Building Robotics, a software company that helps make buildings more energy-efficient.

• Grayson Lisenby, 28, chief financial officer of Washington county-based Rice Energy, who helped the company raise $1.1 billion before its initial public offering last January.

• Medhi Samadi, 29, a doctoral student at CMU's School of Computer Science, who made the list of standouts in Enterprise Technology for his work as a co-founder of Solvvy, described as a problem-solving assistant allowing users to side-step keyword searches that produce hundreds of citations and instead use plain English to find the best answers on the Web.

• Pittsburgh Penguins center and three-time NHL All-Star Evgeni Malkin, 28, and Allegheny County native Christopher Watts, 29, managing director of 4Point4, a sports apparel company that contributes its proceeds to charity, who were both named to the “30 Under 30” lists in the field of sports.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com

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