Engineering's Wong recognized for work in bioinspired synthetic materials

May 26, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Every day, many industries, including those in the water, energy and health sectors, have to deal with unwanted liquid-surface interactions. For instance, sticky liquid droplets condensed on heat exchangers of a desalination plant will affect the water collection efficiency, or liquids that adhere to the surface of a lens will affect the visibility of an endoscope during medical operations.

Tak-Sing Wong, Wormley Family Early Career Professor in Engineering and assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State, is trying to understand these interactions by studying design principles behind biological surfaces and using advanced nanomanufacturing techniques to create bioinspired synthetic materials. His work could have positive implications for many industrial and medical applications ranging from self-cleaning materials, anti-icing and anti-frosting coatings and anti-biofouling surfaces, to fog harvesting and water desalination.

"For example," said Wong, “there are super water repellent coatings that will allow water desalination plants to run more efficiently by rapidly removing the condensed water droplets on their heat exchangers; surfaces that prevent super-cooled water droplets to condense on them to prevent the formation of frost and ice — important for flight safety; surfaces that can prevent attachment from barnacles or other marine creatures on the surface of ship hulls will reduce the surface drag, thereby reducing the fuel required to propel the seafaring ships; and surfaces that can prevent fouling from biological fluids will be extremely important for medical devices to function safely.”

For his efforts, Wong has been selected to receive the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Nanotechnology Council 2016 Early Career Award, which recognizes individuals who have made contributions with major impact on the field of nanotechnology.

“Nature is a master of nanotechnology — from the water repellency of lotus leaves to the repeatable adhesion of the Tokay gecko and vivid color changing ability of the chameleon — natural surfaces use a variety of nanoscale structures to perform these amazing functions to thrive in their environments. Therefore, natural surfaces have often served as blueprints for the design of highly functional engineered materials," said Wong.

One of Wong’s key research areas is studying and manufacturing nature’s super non-sticking surfaces such as the leaves of lotus and pitcher plants.

Part of his current work builds upon his earlier contributions, which involved the fundamental study of why natural surfaces require nanoscale textures to repel water efficiently, as well as the design of super slippery surfaces inspired by Nepenthes pitcher plants.

Wong hopes the research being done in his lab will ultimately provide creative nature-inspired solutions to solve some of the critical engineering challenges in the 21st century.

For now, he is thrilled to be recognized for what he has accomplished so far.

“It is a great honor to be recognized for our research efforts in this area! I am very thankful to my mentors who support our work, as well as for my research team who work very hard hoping to bring positive impacts to people’s lives through nature-inspired technologies," said Wong.       

More information about Wong’s research is available at the Laboratory for Nature Inspired Engineering website and in a recent National Science Foundation Science Nation video.

He will receive his award at the IEEE International Conference on Nanotechnology being held Aug. 22 to 25 in Sendai, Japan.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 27, 2016