Ying Diao: Exploring new frontiers

This profile originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Mass Transfer, the magazine for alumni and friends of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois. For a listing of all our faculty members, please visit our directory or explore the department’s research pages for overviews of our groundbreaking research programs.

Diao in lab_600
Ying Diao

Assistant Professor Ying Diao joined the department in January 2015. Dr. Diao comes to the University of Illinois after serving as a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Stanford University. Prior to that, she received her Ph.D. in chemical engineering and her M.S. in chemical engineering practice, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her B.S. in chemical engineering from Tsinghua University in China.

Diao is glad to be at the University of Illinois and appreciates its long, excellent tradition of engineering innovation.

“I very much value the collegial, inclusive, and collaborative culture here, and the exceptional, nurturing environment created for the junior faculty,” she said. “As the home to Nobel Laureate John Bardeen, who jointly invented the transistor, I feel a special sense of connection to the university because a major part of my research is in the area of printed electronics.”

Diao’s research is driven by the urge to change the way organic functional materials are manufactured by replacing energy-intensive and environmentally costly processes with more eco-friendly methods.

Her goal is to use solution printing to make advanced materials such as electronic papers, solar cells, and medicines. “Currently these materials are made using processes that are much less energy efficient,” said Diao, who is a Dow Chemical Company Faculty Scholar.

Diao’s group is working to decipher how molecules self-assemble into functional materials and to develop device methods to control the molecular assembly process. These molecular assembly processes follow the same principle governing the formation of snow crystals. However, the understanding of such processes in the context of solution printing, a highly non-equilibrium process, has not been clearly understood.

Diao, who is curious by nature, says the process that molecules assemble into crystals fascinates her. “On the other hand, it is deeply concerning how human activities such as material manufacturing are changing the environment around us,” she said. “This research direction marries my curiosity with my sense of mission.”

For her first semester on campus, Diao taught ChBE 421: Momentum and Heat Transfer with Associate Professor Brendan Harley.

“I like interacting with young minds and it is fulfilling to participate in their intellectual growth,” she said.

When not in the lab or teaching class, Diao enjoys listening to classical music and playing and watching sports.