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Ashley Lindstrom
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MIT Technology Review has named Cockrell School of Engineering assistant professor Guihua Yu to its prestigious list of the world’s top 35 Innovators Under the age of 35. Yu was chosen for his work developing materials that could drive advancements in energy storage, health monitoring and environmental cleanup.

For more than a decade, MIT Tech Review, which announced its annual list of top innovators on Aug. 19, has recognized exceptionally talented technologists under the age of 35 whose work has great potential to transform the world. A panel of experts selected Yu out of more than 500 nominees for the global list.

photo of guihua yu

In the Cockrell School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, Yu focuses on advancing conductive hydrogels, a special class of porous and flexible materials capable of conducting electricity. He is the first researcher to develop and apply energy hydrogels to energy storage devices such as batteries and supercapacitors.

“We are actively working on building better battery devices that could utilize our gels,” Yu said. “By helping to refine these materials, we can really make things happen, not only in a lab, but in real life.”

Yu’s energy hydrogels have the potential to store energy five to 10 times as efficiently as conventional batteries do. His research focuses on developing the structure and function of 3-D nanostructured polymer hydrogels. When coated with different chemicals or particles, the tissue-like material can be used for skin sensors and biosensing.

“Yu’s pioneering work with hydrogels could lead to the next generation of lithium batteries, biofuel cells, biosensors and medical electrodes,” said Jayathi Murthy, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “He brings an expertise as a materials scientist and as a chemist, which allows him to further push the boundaries of these materials.”

In the area of health care, Yu is integrating hydrogels into wearable technologies for diabetes and cholesterol monitoring. He is also researching hydrogels’ potential for environmental cleanup by coating their surface with chemicals that repel water for long durations.

“Ultimately, I want to see these materials be useful for daily life, for energy storage, diabetes monitoring and cleaning up oil spills,” Yu said. “We are confident that we can continue to improve the performance of these materials.”

Yu — a member of the Cockrell School’s Texas Materials Institute, one of the country’s leading materials science research groups — earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University in 2009 after graduating from the University of Science and Technology of China with a degree in chemistry in 2003. After three years of postdoctoral research at Stanford University, Yu joined the Cockrell School faculty in 2012 as an assistant professor.

Among his recent accolades, Yu was named one of the Journal of Materials Chemistry’s (Royal Society of Chemistry) 2014 Emerging Investigators. He received the 2013 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award and the 2010 Prize for Young Chemists by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry for best Ph.D. research.

Previous MIT Tech Review Innovators Under 35 include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google; Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook; and David Karp, the creator of Tumblr.

Yu is the third faculty member from the Cockrell School in three years to be named to the list, following assistant professors Nanshu Lu and Zheng Wang in 2012.

This year’s honorees will be featured online at and in the September/October print edition of the magazine.

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