Newswise — UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. ⁠— Three Penn State faculty and two graduate students have received the 2021 Rustum and Della Roy Innovation in Materials Research Award.  

The award is presented by the Materials Research Institute and recognizes interdisciplinary materials research at Penn State which yields innovative and unexpected results. The award exists thanks to a gift from Della and Rustum Roy, who are both alumni of Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and long-serving faculty in the college. Della died in March of this year at age 94.  

This year’s winners were announced at the 2021 Materials Day event. Faculty awardees include Andrea Argüelles, assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics; Cui-Zu Chang, assistant professor of physics; and Huanyu “Larry” Cheng, Dorothy Quiggle Career Development Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics. Graduate student winners include Elena Vazquez, doctoral candidate in the Stuckeman Center for Design Computation and Yihuang Xiong, graduate research assistant in materials science and engineering.  

Andrea Argüelles 

Argüelles’ research focuses on wave propagation and scattering in heterogeneous media with applications in ultrasonic testing for materials characterization. Her lab’s vision is to better how processing impacts the internal features and microstructures of components, including 3D printed metals and cold-sintered ceramics, through ultrasonic testing combined with physics-based models.  

“The impact of my research is rooted on the ability to elucidate complex mechanisms in advanced manufacturing processes, deepening our understanding of process-structure-property relationships,” Argüelles said. “Thus, my research can directly and indirectly ensure reliability of material systems in safety-critical industries, ranging from airplanes to nuclear waste disposal facilities.” 

Cui-Zu Chang 

Chang’s group combines state-of-the-art materials synthesis such as molecular beam epitaxy and unconventional device concepts to discover emergent quantum phenomena at the interface/surface of quantum materials. The central focus is on “quantum anomalous Hall (QAH) insulators” which harbors dissipation-free “highways” for transporting electrons.  

“The QAH materials help tackle global environmental challenges by revolutionizing the next generation of energy-efficient electronic and spintronic devices and providing a new coherent platform for quantum information science,” Chang said.  

Huanyu “Larry” Cheng 

Cheng’s area of expertise includes material composites, mechanics of materials, structural design, transient electronics and soft deformable multimodality devices. Cheng’s lab is centered on creating new soft functional materials, developing scalable, low-cost, rapid manufacturing approaches, and exploring novel device designs for non-invasive, long-term, continuous health monitoring.  

“My motivation for science is largely driven by the impact that our research could have on human health from preventative monitoring and early diagnostic confirmation to non-invasive and convenient therapeutic options,” Cheng said. “The standalone, self-powered, wireless, wearable sensing platform also paves the way to wirelessly detect clinically relevant biophysical and biochemical signals for healthy aging.” 

Elena Vazquez 

Vazquez’s research focuses on computational design and new materials for architecture. She is working to develop green building technologies using new and traditional materials. These traditional materials are made into smart materials via digital means. In addition, her work involves materials that respond to changes in the environment.  

“The research seeks to develop kinetic building envelope systems that are energy-efficient and improve comfort inside buildings,” Vazquez said.

Yihuang Xiong 

Xiong’s work involves using computational methods to study photocatalysts, the interface properties of complex metal oxides, and machine learning to accelerate the discovery of energy-related materials. These include photocatalysts, a class of materials that can use solar energy to harvest hydrogen from water. The conventional trial-and-error approach of discovering photocatalysts is costly and time consuming. Xiong’s research focuses on computer simulations of the key properties of thousands of materials to find the most promising ones for further experimental synthesis and validations.  

“We believe that the integrated experimental-computational workflow can largely accelerate the discovery of photocatalysts and cut the cost,” Xiong said.