Three Penn State researchers win Rustum and Della Roy Awards

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Abdon Pena-Francesch, Ph.D. candidate in engineering science and mechanics, Amin Azizi, Ph.D candidate in materials science and engineering and Yin-Ting (Tim) Yeh, post-doctoral scholar in physics, have each been awarded the Rustum and Della Roy Innovation in Materials Research Award. The award honors interdisciplinary materials research at Penn State that yields valuable, unexpected results and recognizes genuine innovation not previously achieved.

Pena-Francesch’s research involves a structural protein complex found in the tentacles of squid suction cups that exhibits remarkable mechanical properties in wet and dry conditions exceeding most natural and synthetic polymers.

His adviser, Melik Demirel, professor of engineering science and mechanics, said, “Using the tools of molecular biology, large-scale computation and mechanics, Abdon has demonstrated that these proteins have excellent mechanical (high strength), structural (selective barrier) and optical (photonic cavity) properties, in both wet and dry conditions, that exceed most natural and synthetic polymers, while having the unique capability of self-healing. Abdon’s future work will contribute greatly to the scientific progress in experimental and computational study of biological materials.”

Azizi studies two-dimensional crystals such as graphene, hexagonal boron nitride and transition metal dichalcogenides using ultra-high resolution aberration-corrected electron microscopy microscopy to uncover and probe the atomic and chemical structure of ultra-thin materials and the role of defects on their physical and chemical properties.

According to his Ph.D. adviser Nasim Alem, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, “Amin’s analysis has led to remarkable results on the migration mechanism of dislocations in a monolayer tungsten disulfide and local strain at the atomic scale at the dislocation cores. His work provides important information on the underlying mechanisms that drive chemical and physical properties of 2D crystals at the large scale.”

Yeh’s scientific innovations lie in the field of materials, micro-devices and biomedicine. In the materials field, Yin-Ting systematically studied the aerosol-assisted chemical vapor deposition of vertically aligned multi-wall nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes (CNTs). By controlling the thickness of the catalyst iron thin film, he found a way to control the intertubular distance between the CNTs of the CNT forest structure in the range of 20-325nm. He applied this nanoscale material in the field of infectious disease by integrating it into a microdevice so that the CNT forest structure can perform virus isolation by filtration at the nanoscale.

His co-advisers, Mauricio Terrones, professor of physics and materials science and engineering, and Siyang Zheng, associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical engineering, said, “Yin-Ting’s representative achievement is his invention of a truly remarkable technology, the carbon nanotube-size tunable enrichment microdevice (CNTSTEM) for isolation and direct genomic sequencing of viruses from field samples. He improved the device technology and made this device extremely robust and reliable, with overall yield from fabrication to final usage at around 75 percent in over 200 devices. By utilizing this new platform, he was able to identify two emerging viruses with next generation sequencing directly from field samples without any virus amplification. Since viruses exhibit high mutation rates, extraordinary adaptability and antimicrobial resistance, their physical isolation and accurate identification provided by CNTSTEM could be pivotal for virus discovery, and control and eradication of viral infectious diseases in the future. This is indeed a major breakthrough, and it is the first fabricated carbon nanotube-based microdevice for viral sample preparation/detection.”

This prestigious award was created by a gift from the late Rustum Roy and his wife, Della, who are both alumni of Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and long-serving faculty in the college. 

Last Updated November 22, 2016