Ying Diao is a researcher at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Her research seeks to understand and control multiscale molecular assembly processes to achieve sustainable manufacturing of materials and devices for environment, energy, and healthcare applications, including therapeutic products. Molecular assembly, where a set of inanimate molecules can form structures with ever-evolving complexity and emergent properties, is inextricably linked to the origin of life. With the advent of modern drug development, the rise of nanotechnology, and most recently the renaissance in energy research, the field has resurged into prominence.

The Diao Research Group, started in 2015 at UIUC, aims to understand the assembly of organic functional materials and innovate printing approaches that enable structural control down to the molecular and nanoscales. 


  • Postdoctoral scholar, Stanford University & SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, 2011-2014
  • Ph.D., chemical engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011
  • M.S., chemical engineering practice, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2008
  • B.S.E., chemical engineering, Tsinghua University, 2006


  • 2023 University Scholar, University of Illinois
  • 2023 New Horizons Solvay Lectures in Chemistry, International Solvay Institutes
  • 2023 List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent, Fa’16, Sp’18, Sp’20, Fa’20, Fa’21, Fa’22
  • 2022 Van Ness Award Lecture, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • 2022 Thiele Award Lecture, University of Notre Dame
  • 2022 “Rising Star” series of Advanced Materials
  • 2022 Soft Matter Emerging Investigator
  • 2021 Campus Distinguished Promotion Award
  • 2021 I. C. Gunsalus Scholar, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
  • 2020: NASA Early Career Faculty Award 
  • 2020: Rising Star in Materials Chemistry, Chemistry of Materials “Up-and-Coming Series” 
  • 2020: List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent (Fall and Spring)
  • 2020: Emerging Investigator, Chemical Society Reviews, the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • 2019: Lincoln Excellence for Assistant Professor Scholar, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences 
  • 2019: Beckman Fellow, Center for Advanced Study, UIUC 
  • 2019: Early Career Award, AVS Prairie Chapter 
  • 2019: Emerging Investigator in Crystal Growth & Design, ACS Publications 
  • 2019: Emerging Investigator, Molecular Systems Design & Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry 
  • 2019: Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 
  • 2018: List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent (Spring)
  • 2018: NSF CAREER Award 
  • 2018: 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award 
  • 2018: Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in Chemistry 
  • 2018: Chemistry of Materials Reviewer Excellence Award, ACS Publications 
  • 2017: School of Chemical Sciences Teaching Award, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • 2017: US Frontiers of Engineering Symposium, National Academy of Engineering 


Cited By


“Our research brings semiconductors to life by unlocking the same dynamic qualities that natural organisms like viruses use to adapt and survive."

- Molecular teamwork makes the organic dream work

“Since organic electronics are made from the same basic elements as living beings, like people, they unlock many new possibilities for applications. In the future, organic electronics might be able to attach to our brains to enhance cognition or, be worn like a Band-aid to convert our body heat into electricity.”

- Molecular teamwork makes the organic dream work

“Chirality is a fascinating biological property. The function of many biomolecules is directly linked to their chirality. Take the protein complexes involved in photosynthesis. When electrons move through the proteins’ spiraled structures, an effective magnetic field is generated that helps separate bound charges created by light. This means that light can be converted into biochemicals more efficiently."

- New polymer property could give accessible solar power a boost

“Organic solar cells can be printed at high speed and low cost, using very little energy. Imagine that one day, solar cells are as cheap as newspapers, and you could fold one up and carry it around in your backpack."

- New polymer property could give accessible solar power a boost

“Now that we’ve unlocked the potential for chiral conjugated polymers, we can apply that biological property to solar cells and other electronics, learning from how chirality enhances photosynthesis in nature. With more efficient organic solar cells that can be manufactured so quickly, we can potentially generate gigawatts of energy daily to catch up with the rapidly increasing global energy demand."

- New polymer property could give accessible solar power a boost

“It is challenging to reproduce these vibrant colors in the polymers used to produce items like environmentally friendly paints and highly selective optical filters. Precise control of polymer synthesis and processing is needed to form the incredibly thin, ordered layers that produce the structural color as we see in nature.”

- Researchers mimic nature for fast, colorful 3D printing

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