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3M awards ASU researcher for work in nanophotonics

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Assistant Professor Sui Yang earned a 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award to help his research in nanophotonics that could produce ultra-thin, flexible and high-resolution solutions for flexible displays, imaging, augmented reality, virtual reality and more. Graphic created by Erik Wirtanen/ASU using Adobe Firefly

November 14, 2023

Sui Yang, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, was selected as one of 10 recipients of the 2023 Non-Tenured Faculty Award from 3M.

The 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award is a four-decade-old program to encourage tenure-track university professors to pursue new ideas. The award selection is based on a candidate’s research, experience, teaching, academic leadership and their proposed vision of future research.

The award provides $45,000 in unrestricted research funds to assist faculty to earn tenure, contribute to their field and foster ongoing relationships with future leaders in academic research.

Yang’s research is centered on nanophotonics, which creates artificial photonic and optoelectronic materials to control light-matter interactions for wide optical and optoelectronic applications.

Nanophotonics involves the manipulation and control of light at the nanoscale, typically at dimensions smaller than the wavelength of light. Researchers work with nanoscale optical components, such as nanoscale waveguides, photodetectors and light emitters, to harness the unique properties of light and enable various applications.

In his latest research, Yang, who joined the faculty of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, part of the Fulton Schools at ASU, in January 2021, proposes to integrate metamaterials with polymeric materials, with the end result being able to obtain optical film unachievable before.

Yang says that polymeric materials, or polymers, are materials with repeating units of molecules. Daily plastic commodities, mechanical parts, flexible electronics and chip packaging consist of polymeric materials that are designed to integrate into modern life by being mechanically strong, flexible, lightweight and electronically conductive. However, the optical and optoelectronic applications of polymeric materials are very limited.

“Metamaterials are a new class of materials with artificially designed structure constituents that can achieve unprecedented optical and optoelectronic properties. The integration of metamaterial structures with polymeric materials can bring a completely new dimension to our consumer technologies,” Yang says. “It will be ultra-thin, flexible and conformal optical or optoelectronic films that have never been explored before.”

According to Yang, potential uses following this integration range from areas such as flexible and lightweight display components in TVs, tablets, phones and light-ranging lidar to imaging and sensing solutions for next-generation smart cameras, augmented reality and virtual reality technologies, integrated chip systems and biomedical diagnostics.

The 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award is not the only award Yang has won throughout his young academic career, which started as a senior research scientist and manager at the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also earned his doctoral degree. He previously has won the Microsystems & Nanoengineering Young Scientist Award, the Elsevier Reaxys PhD Prize, the NKT Photonics Student Award and a Rising Stars of Light award from Light: Science & Applications.

“To have my work and contributions recognized in this prestigious award is extremely meaningful and rewarding to me,” Yang says. “It motivates me to continue striving for excellence and making a positive impact in the field.”

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