Engineering science and mechanics professor Huang named a fellow by institutes

By Cole Hons
January 29, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA — It was an outstanding Tuesday for Tony Jun Huang. On Jan. 20, the Penn State professor of engineering science and mechanics learned that he had been elected a fellow by two professional organizations.

The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) elected Huang to join their College of Fellows, considered the top 2 percent of the nation’s outstanding leaders, engineers, entrepreneurs, and innovators in medical and biological engineering.

Concurrently, the Institute of Physics (IOP) recognized Huang by accepting his nomination to its highest rank as well, granting fellow status in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the profession.

“It is quite an honor to be recognized this way, and I’m very humbled,” Huang said.

To complete his induction to the AIMBE on March 16, Huang will travel to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., to participate in a formal ceremony.

Huang was elected to both honors for his leading-edge research in the field of acoustofluidics, optofluidics, microfluidics and acoustic tweezers.

“We have developed an acoustic tweezers technology by which sound waves are directed at the micro/nano scale to manipulate cells or particles or fluids,” Huang explained. “A wide range of biomedical applications can benefit from this technology.”

Acoustic tweezers allow the manipulation of cells within fluids in a manner far less expensive, and far less intrusive, than previously possible. More conventional methods tend to be bulky and expensive – and often damage cells.

“To develop acoustic tweezers, we’ve borrowed some concepts, along with their benefits, from ultrasonic imaging,” Huang said. “Ultrasonic imaging is always the preferred method of scanning a fetus in a pregnant woman’s body, because it is so safe and gentle. So it is not surprising to us that our acoustic tweezers technology do not damage cells.”

Ultrasound technology is also very portable and affordable, Huang added, “There are systems about the size of a cell phone that can easily be brought to the point of care, and they cost a few thousand dollars as opposed to hundreds of thousands.”

The scientist, who has been at Penn State since 2005, credits his most recent honors to the teamwork of his collaborators, postdocs and graduate students.

“When you work with such an outstanding community of peers and students, it’s easy to do excellent work,” he noted, explaining that no major breakthroughs can happen without harnessing the skills of many people.

Most recently, Huang’s team, including professor Steve Benkovic, postdoc Peng LI and doctoral student Feng Guo, demonstrated that it is possible to precisely control the distance between neighboring cells using sound waves.

“It’s a whole new way to study how cells communicate with each other,” Huang said. “This is really exciting, because it can help us figure out, for example, how cancer cells interact with normal cells and invade different organs.”

Huang credits the unusual makeup of the Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM) Department for providing a uniquely interdisciplinary environment where such breakthroughs can emerge.

“Working in the ESM department gives me the rare opportunity to work with so many talented people from so many fields,” Huang said, noting that his students as have earned degrees from eight different disciplines before pursuing doctoral degrees in ESM.

“Physics provides the fundamentals, engineering/materials provides the tools and biomedicine brings the work into a context where it can have a powerful impact on peoples’ lives. Tony has been a rising star from his first days in ESM,” said department head Judith Todd. Application of his acousto-fluidic tweezers invention promises new labs-on-a-chip that can be used in every doctor’s office for rapid detection of bacteria, viri and disease diagnosis. ESM is very proud of Tony’s accomplishments.”

“At the end of the day,” Huang concluded, “it’s not about the equipment. It’s the people that make all the difference.”

Huang is undoubtedly one of those people. 

  • Dr. Tony Jun Huang

    Tony Jun Huang was elected a Fellow at the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and the Institute of Physics.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated January 30, 2015