By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant
Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang was recently awarded a one year grant by the United States Department of Defense (DOD) for her proposal for “High-Performance Laser Etching System for Multi-Layer Soft Electronics.” According to Wang, the grant will be used to acquire an advanced laser etching system that offers selective, precise, and reproducible patterning capabilities of multi-layer soft materials and electronics. “Such capabilities will allow the design and manufacturing of soft, flexible structures and electronics for applications including power-efficient, pressure-tolerance oceanographic measurements as well as wearable/implantable bioelectronics,” she says.
Wang and her collaborator Biomedical Engineering Professor Yi Zhang were among 150 university researchers who received grants out of almost 800 proposals totaling $50 million under the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP). The highly competitive selection process is administered by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Army Research Office, and Office of Naval Research.
Ultimately, decisions are made with the goal of equipping universities that enable them to “perform state-of-the-art research that boosts the United States’ technological edge, while ensuring that our future STEM workforce remains second to none,” the program’s website states.
As one of the recipients responsible for utilizing this advanced technology, Wang says she is in the process of acquiring an advanced laser and using it for the design and manufacturing of soft, flexible electronics.
In the real world, Wang says her research will be applicable to a number of fields. “Our developed power-efficient, small, and non-invasive electronic sensors are suitable for many platforms including soft robotics and biomedical devices for health monitoring and disease treatment, like neurological diseases,” she says.
The interdisciplinary applications of her research makes sense considering Wang’s multidisciplinary educational background. She received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, a master’s and PhD in mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and did a postdoc in materials science and engineering at Northwestern University. Before settling at UConn, she also was an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Missouri, Columbia. “I collaborate with people in electrical engineering, biomedical engineering and the School of Medicine too,” she says.
She is the author of over 20 publications, and she holds multiple patents and disclosures. In addition, her research has been recognized through awards from the professional society, including ASME Haythornthwaite Foundation Research Initiation Award ASME Haythornthwaite Foundation Research Initiation Award and Gary L. Cloud Scholarship Award from the Society of Experimental Mechanics.
Her diverse knowledge of scientific fields is something Wang values. “To me, a lot of great research is created at the boundary of different fields” she says.
This belief extends into the Wang Research Lab—her research group which conducts interdisciplinary research on mechanics, materials, and structures for energy and human health applications. Their current research interests include mechanics and materials for multi-physics systems such as energy storage and conversion, design and manufacturing of stretchable 3-D programmable architectures and electronics, and soft materials and systems.
More impressive than Wang just winning the ‘DURIP’ award is that she did so while adjusting as a new assistant professor to UConn during the coronavirus pandemic this past fall. “It has been great despite the pandemic. I still have gotten to interact with our great faculty and students,” she says. “There has been some delay in research due to the materials and supplies, and initially diminished access to some shared facilities. But overall, my students still made some great progress even with the pandemic.”
This semester Sophie teaches MSE 3056 (Mechanical Behavior Laboratory). “In response to surveys of our alumni and our External Advisory Board, in fact Professor Wang is redesigning this class to focus on modelling and finite element analysis, topics of ever-growing importance to the materials engineering workforce,” Department Head Bryan Huey says.
According to Wang, the class triggers students’ interest by connecting what is being taught in class to real applications including heat transfer and structural design.