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Drs. Donglei Fan (left) and Carlos Hidrovo (right).

Drs. Donglei Fan (left) and Carlos Hidrovo (right).

Assistant Professors Donglei Fan and Carlos Hidrovo have each received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, a grant aimed at helping outstanding junior faculty make strong advances in their research and instructional careers. This prestigious award is one of the most highly sought-after science and technology research grants in the country among young tenure-track academic faculty. Both awards provide about $400,000 in support for the next five years. They join 16 others from our department who have won the award since 1992.

Donglei Fan

Dr. Fan's research group: Back row: Bryan Boyd (U), Adrien Faivre (U), Chao Liu (G), Andrew Duggan (U), Kwanoh Kim (G). Front row: Anna Huang (High school), Esther Huang (High school), Xiaobin Xu (G), Virgilio Martinez (U), Donglei Fan. Students not pictured: Jianhe Guo (G), Jing Bai (G, visiting), Christian Reding (U).

Dr. Fan's research group: Back row: Bryan Boyd (U), Adrien Faivre (U), Chao Liu (G), Andrew Duggan (U), Kwanoh Kim (G). Front row: Anna Huang (High school), Esther Huang (High school), Xiaobin Xu (G), Virgilio Martinez (U), Donglei Fan. Students not pictured: Jianhe Guo (G), Jing Bai (G, visiting), Christian Reding (U).

Research

The long-term goal of Assistant Professor Donglei Fan is to establish a research program that bridges fabrication of nanofunctional materials with their applications in electronic, biomedical, and energy conversion & storage devices. By leveraging the unique properties of nanomaterials, the devices are expected to be smaller, lighter, more sensitive, efficient, and functional for the users.

Fan will also be instigating an educational program that provides a training ground for young scientists and engineers in the interdisciplinary field of nanoscience, electrical, mechanical, and biomedical engineering through the integration of research and education.

As a step toward this goal, the research objective of the National Science Foundation's CAREER award is to explore an entirely original mechanism for highly efficient assembling of large arrays of tiny motors that work at the atomic or molecular scale, also known as the nanoscale. These motors, referred to as rotary nano-electromechanical devices (NEMS motors or nanomotors), are created from nanoscale building blocks. Fan's research also aims to add new knowledge and understanding of the fundamental nanoscale electrical, magnetic, and frictional interactions that can be revealed by the nanomotor system.

If Fan's research is successful, the applications of rotary nanomotors can elevate the persisting problems with nanofluidic mixing and benefit medical research advances in disease diagnosis, DNA amplification, and drug discovery. It also could provide an original concept for designing nanovacuum devices that are important for devices used in radio-frequency communication (such as cell phone) and biochemical sensing.

The nanomotors can also be utilized as a new nanotool to study fundamentals of biomolecules such as DNA and proteins under mechanical stimulation, (see related article on mechanical stimulation in protein research being done in this department). Overall, the research effort may significantly impact multiple fields, including MEMS (micro electromechanical systems) /NEMS (nanoelectromechancial systems), microelectronics, micro/nanofluidics, and lab-on-chip architecture (devices which integrate laboratory functions on a single computer chip, negating the need for a traditional lab).

Community Outreach

The educational goal is to enhance the undergraduate and graduate programs of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin as well as to promote ethnically disadvantaged minority and underrepresented women from K-12 to graduate levels. The research will also outreach to the general public via demonstrating real-time operating nanomotors at Austin Children's Museum and the development of educational web publishing.

Academic Profile

Currently, Dr. Fan is actively exploring three research areas, which have all obtained grant support:

  1. Single-molecule optical nanosensors, which can accurately and sensitively detect biochemicals on single-molecule levels. The nanosensors are highly desirable for purposes such as environmental monitoring, homeland security, and biological warfare defense.
  2. Innovative mechanisms for highly efficient assembling of large arrays of mechanical nanodevices such as nanomotors and nanorobots for applications in electronics and biomedicine.
  3. Rational synthesis of three-dimensional highly-branched semiconductor nano-superstructures for energy conversion and storage devices. These materials have large surface areas and unique chemical and electrical properties that are highly desirable as electrodes for batteries, solar cells, and supercapacitors

Carlos Hidrovo

Dr. Hidrovo's research group: On Bevo: Brian Carroll (G), Carlos Hidrovo (PI), Sungyun Hann (UG) Standing up: Onur Demirer (G), Tae Jin Kim (G), Collier Miers (UG), Andrew King (G), Joshua Montañez (UG), Juan Trejo (UG), Harrison Leva (UG), James Novogoratz (UG), Renee Hale (G), Ansel Staton (UG).

Dr. Hidrovo's research group: On Bevo: Brian Carroll (G), Carlos Hidrovo (PI), Sungyun Hann (UG) Standing up: Onur Demirer (G), Tae Jin Kim (G), Collier Miers (UG), Andrew King (G), Joshua Montañez (UG), Juan Trejo (UG), Harrison Leva (UG), James Novogoratz (UG), Renee Hale (G), Ansel Staton (UG).

Research

Dr. Hidrovo's research focuses on a multidisciplinary field called microfluidics, which is the study of the behavior of fluids on a very small (sub-millimeter) scale. Microfluidics has applications in various fields, but has particularly demonstrated potential in biology and biotechnology. For example, the study of microfluidics has led to the development of tiny devices called labs-on-a-chip (LOCs) and micro total analysis systems (µTASs) which are capable of performing complex laboratory analyses on on a compact, portable platform where a full laboratory is unavailable, and with very small material samples. These devices have been used for such things as HIV testing in third world countries, biological warfare detection, and cellular biology research.

Example of a glass lab-on-a-chip.

Example of a glass lab-on-a-chip.

Hidrovo's proposed reserach project, titled "Inertial Two-Phase Gas-Liquid Droplet Microflows," specifically focuses on understanding and controlling micro-level liquid droplet formation and motion within a gaseous medium. Currently, LOCs and µTASs typically use an oil carrier to transport water droplets — a method that is relatively slow, but stable and easy to control. In addition to droplet formation and transport, Dr. Hidrovo will investigate the dynamics of droplet collisions to enhance mixing in microfluidics devices using a novel fluorescence technique developed in his lab. By improving droplet control over the much faster gas carrier system and enhancing mixing, Hidrovo will be able to create devices that can process larger quantities of materials in significantly less time.

Community Outreach

The research portion of Hidrovo's project is complemented with educational and outreach activiies. As part of these, Hidrovo will develop a new lab module for the experimental fluid mechanics course (ME130L) which will showcase mass conservation principles in two-phase microflows using fluorescence microscopy, introducing undergraduate students to cutting-edge diagnostics in microflows. The lab module development will be leveraged to establish an undergraduage research program, named "Tiny Fluids," and a minority-focused high school summer fellowship program, named "Not Everything's Bigger in Texas."

Academic Biography

Hidrovo earned his Ph.D. from The Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2001. He then went on to work as a Research Scientist in the 3D Optical Systems group at MIT and as a Research Associate in the Micro Heat Transfer Laboratory at Stanford University. In September 2007 he joined The University of Texas at Austin as an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering and established the Multiscale Thermal Fluids Laboratory. Hidrovo's research interests lie at the intersection of multiscale and multiphase flow and transport phenomena, surface tension interactions in micro/nanoengineered structures, and electrokinetic ion transport in porous media for applications in energy storage, portable biochemical diagnostics, thermal management, and water treatment systems. He is also actively involved in developing novel imaging and diagnostic tools in these areas.

This is Hidrovo's second federally sponsored young investiagor award while at The University of Texas at Austin, having received the DARPA Young Investigator Award in 2008. He is also the recipient of the ASME 2001 Robert T. Knapp Award.


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