Beckman Director's Seminar

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Beckman Director's Seminar: Ying Diao

Ying Diao, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, will present "Printing functional polymers for sustainable Earth and habitable Mars" at the Beckman Institute Director's Seminar at noon on Thursday, March 3.
Published on Feb. 17, 2022

Ying Diao, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, will present "Printing functional polymers for sustainable Earth and habitable Mars" at the Beckman Institute's hybrid Director's Seminar at noon on Thursday, March 3.

This seminar will be a hybrid event held in 1005 Beckman Institute and via Zoom. A boxed lunch will be provided to in-person attendees.

Registration is required to attend virtually or in person.

Printing functional polymers for sustainable Earth and habitable Mars

diao_ying-only-180202-13-WEBYing DiaoPrinting technologies have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing of electronic and energy materials by drastically reducing the energy cost and environmental footprint while increasing throughput and agility. For instance, printing organic solar cells can potentially reduce energy payback time from two to three years to as short as one day! At the same time, additive manufacturing of such functional materials brings a new set of challenges demanding exquisite control over hierarchical structures down to the molecular-scale.

We address this challenge by designing interfaces and fluid flow central to all printing processes. This approach is demonstrated through controlling chiral helical structures of semiconducting polymers. Our approach enables precisely controlled charge transport and power generation properties of printed semiconducting polymers to help advance their commercial viability in solar cell devices. The ability to control non-equilibrium assembly during printing sets the stage for dynamically modulating assembled structures on the fly. We demonstrate this concept by programming nanoscale morphology and structure color of bottlebrush block copolymers during 3D printing. This approach holds the potential to reduce the use of environmentally toxic pigments by printing structure color. Presently, we are working closely with the Molecular Maker Lab on machine-learning-guided autonomous synthesis and manufacturing of organic solar cells to address the stability bottleneck.

Besides unlocking the potential of printing technologies in energy sustainability, we are developing printed electronics for remote monitoring of plant growth to support human space exploration.


Ying Diao is an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry at UIUC. She received her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from MIT in 2012; her doctoral thesis was on understanding heterogeneous nucleation of pharmaceuticals by designing polymeric substrates. In her subsequent postdoctoral training at Stanford University, she pursued research in the thriving field of printed electronics. The Diao group, started in 2015 at UIUC, focuses on understanding the assembly of organic functional materials and innovating printing approaches that enable structural control down to the molecular and nanoscales.

Diao is a 2021-2022 I.C. Gunsalus Scholar and a Dow Chemical Company Faculty Scholar in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Her work has been featured in scientific journals and news media such as the Science Magazine and Nature Materials, and she appeared on the MIT Technology Review’s annual list of Innovators Under 35 as a pioneer in nanotechnology and materials. She is also a recipient of NSF CAREER Award, the NASA Early Career Faculty Award, the 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award, and was selected as a Sloan Research Fellow in Chemistry as one of the “very best scientific minds working today."

Editor's note: See our Director's Seminar webpage for upcoming speakers, topics, and videos of past lectures.

In this article

  • Ying Diao
    Ying Diao's directory photo.

Missed one of our fall events?

Check below for video of recent Director's Seminar events that are currently being hosted on Zoom.