S&T mechanical engineer wins Powe research award

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On July 2, 2012

Dr. Xiaodong Yang, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, is one of 30 junior faculty members in the nation to win a competitive research grant through the Oak Ridge Associated Universities Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Awards program.


Yang and his fellow recipients, who must be in the first two years of a tenure-track position, will each receive $5,000 in seed money for the 2012-2013 academic year to enhance their research during the early stage of their career. Each recipient’s institution matches the ORAU award with an additional $5,000, making the total prize worth $10,000 for each winner.
Winners may use the grants to purchase equipment, continue research or travel to professional meetings and conferences.
Yang joined the Missouri S&T faculty in 2011. His interdisciplinary research is focused on the mechanism and application of nanophotonics, plasmonics and optical metamaterials based on engineered optical nanostructures, which have sizes of only several hundred nanometers and are made from dielectrics (with silicon and glass) or noble metals (with gold and silver). These optical nanostructures can be carefully designed in order to exhibit extraordinary optical properties, which will lead to many promising applications to advance the optical nanotechnology, for example, solar energy harvesting, optical nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS), and optical communication.
“Back to 400 years ago, mathematician and astrologer Johannes Kepler observed that comet tails always point away from the sun due to the opto-mechanical effects from solar radiation,” Yang says. “Nowadays, optical forces have been widely used in optical tweezers to precisely manipulate or measure the position of micro-particles, such as cells and DNAs.”
Yang earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 2009. With the funds from his Powe Award, he plans to work on the enhanced opto-mechanical coupling between different types of metallic nanostructures and reveal the mechanism of both attractive and repulsive optical forces between these nanostructures.
“Such switchable optical forces at nanoscale will greatly enhance our capability to realize lots of interdisciplinary applications such as tunable optical NEMS devices and reconfigurable sensors and actuators,” Yang says.
The Powe Awards, now in their 22nd year, are named for Ralph E. Powe, who served as the ORAU councilor from Mississippi State University of 16 years. Powe participated in numerous committees and special projects during his tenure and was elected chair of ORAU’s Council of Sponsoring Institutions prior to his death in 1996. Since the program’s inception, ORAU has awarded nearly 500 grants totaling more than $2.3 million.
More information on ORAU fellowships, grants and awards is available at www.orau.org/consortium/programs.

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