Curious observations can often inspire people to come up with new hypotheses and define new problems in research. Professor Jiaxing Huang will share a few such discoveries from his research and teaching, connecting materials innovations to problems observed in ordinary people’s lives. (1) Crumpled paper balls in a wastebasket inspired a new form of ultrafine particles that become aggregation-resistant and can disperse in arbitrary solvents. This represents a new strategy to achieve colloidal processability without the need for tuning surface chemistry. (2) Nanopatterns in Blu-ray movie discs are found to be suitable for improving the performance of solar cells through light trapping. This suggests a materials/information duality, where the properties of materials are determined by how information is stored in the materials. (3) A problem encountered in water marbling art inspired a new technique of Langmuir-Blodgett assembly of colloidal particles. (4) A recent discovery of using graphene materials for hair dyes. Finally, he will use a few examples from his classroom to illustrate how curiosity-driven enquiry enhances learning experience and empowers students to innovate. These teacher-student interactions in return inspires us to discover and identify new research problems, and provide material-based solutions for better living.
Jiaxing Huang is a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University. He received his B.S. degree in Chemical Physics from USTC, Ph.D. in Chemistry from UCLA, and became a Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley before joining Northwestern in 2007. In research, his group uses chemical principles and tools to discover new materials, advance materials processing, and make materials innovations for better living. Some recent examples include carbon based nanomaterials, clay minerals, and novel colloidal particles for energy storage, water treatments and even safer cosmetics. Through teaching, they aim to develop intuition, inspire creativity and bring the best out of students and themselves. His work has been recognized by awards from the National Science Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the American Vacuum Society, and the International Aerosol Research Assembly. He is included in the lists of Highly Cited Researchers (Thompson Reuters/Clarivate Analytics) and Most Cited Researchers in Materials Science and Engineering (Elsevier). He is also a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, the JSPS Fellowship from Japan and the Humboldt Research Award from Germany.