University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering


New ECE Faculty Appointed Welch Professor

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Toby Weber

The newest faculty member of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering has joined UH with a prestigious endowed professorship.

Assistant Professor Yan Yao has been awarded a Robert A. Welch Professorship by UH’s Texas Center for Superconductivity (TcSUH), effective Sept. 1, 2012. The endowed Robert A. Welch Professorships in High Temperature Superconducting and Chemical Materials were created at TcSUH by the Robert A. Welch Foundation to assist in the recruitment and/or retention of outstanding faculty, research faculty, and visiting scientists. The appointments are typically for two years.

"I’m honored to be selected for such a prestigious professorship," said Yao. "The funding provided by the Welch Foundation will help me to quickly establish my research program and begin making contributions toward solving real-world energy problems."

Yao specializes in the development of nano-scale materials and devices for energy applications. He will use the funds provided by the professorship to develop next-generation electrodes for rechargeable magnesium batteries, which are particularly attractive for the central material’s abundance, environmental friendliness, operational safety, and high energy density.

"Professor Yao will make an important contribution to TcSUH’s developing portfolio of energy materials programs," said Allan Jacobson, Robert A. Welch Chair of Science in the UH chemistry department and director of TcSUH.

Among the applications of this technology are large-scale energy storage systems for use in conjunction with solar power and wind power generators, and more affordable electric vehicles. These systems, he said, will ideally rely heavily on green and earth-abundant materials, making them safer and more environmentally friendly than many existing energy storage systems, which often rely on toxic materials and are hard to recycle.

Yao joins UH from Stanford University, where he had served as a postdoctoral fellow since 2010. Prior to Stanford, he worked as the lead scientist overseeing solar power-related research at Polyera Corporation, a start-up focused on developing polymers and polymer technologies for several different applications. In this post, he and his team set multiple records for energy conversion using polymer-based solar cells.

Yao left industry because of the greater freedom offered by academia and what that freedom will allow him to accomplish. "I wanted to do more fundamental research and what I think will have a real impact on society," he said. "My three years of industrial experience helps me better understand what industry needs. I plan to work closely with industry partners to identify key challenges, address them, solve them, and transfer the knowledge back to make better products for our society."

Yao is currently recruiting members for his research group. Undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and visiting scholars from a variety of disciplines are invited to learn more by visiting his homepage.



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