Xiwen Gong during an Xplore Engineering panel.

Xiwen Gong receives NSF CAREER award for research in wearable optoelectronics

The project aims to advance the understanding of wearable optoelectronics based on nanomaterials.

Michigan Chemical Engineering Assistant Professor Xiwen Gong has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for her research in wearable optoelectronics. The project aims to advance the understanding of wearable optoelectronics based on nanomaterials, with a focus on probing the changes in the electronic and optical properties of soft electronic materials while being deformed or stressed.

Wearable electronics emitting and detecting near-infrared (IR) light have the potential to revolutionize healthcare, enabling non-invasive diagnostics and light therapy. However, the challenge lies in finding materials that can adapt to the natural movements of the skin without compromising their properties.

Gong’s project addresses this challenge by synthesizing and investigating composites that combine the strong near-IR optical response of quantum dots with the electronic and physical properties of organic semiconductors. Her work aims to control the interactions between these materials, studying their mechanical, optical and electronic behavior. This fundamental understanding could pave the way for breakthroughs in flexible electronics for healthcare, soft robotics and other fields.

“I am thrilled and deeply honored to receive this NSF CAREER AWARD,” Gong said. “This funding will allow us to pursue a long-term research goal to advance the fundamental and technical development of wearable optoelectronics based on nanomaterials.”

Beyond building an advanced understanding of chemical interactions between nanoparticles and semiconductor polymers at the molecular level, this project is set to include a new educational initiative led by Gong. The initiative will engage high school students in learning about nanomaterials and nanotechnology in addition to a new undergraduate course featuring interactive STEM outreach and a summer undergraduate research intern, underscoring the interdisciplinary nature of the project.

“To advance this highly interdisciplinary research area, we need to understand how the chemical interactions between nanoparticles and semiconductor polymers at the molecular level impact the mechanical, electronic, and optical properties of the composites,” Gong explained.

The outcomes of the research are expected to offer valuable insights into the field of wearable optoelectronics, guide the material design of deformable semiconductors, and advance the development of wearable optoelectronics in diverse areas, including brain activity monitoring, early disease detection, and light-based therapy.

“By unraveling the mysteries of quantum dot solids under mechanical stress, our research aims to contribute to the creation of advanced materials and devices that can make a meaningful impact across a spectrum of applications in the evolving landscape of wearable optoelectronics,” Gong said.

Xiwen Gong joined Michigan Chemical Engineering as an assistant professor in 2021 following a post-doctoral fellowship with Zhenan Bao at Stanford University. She obtained her PhD in electrical and computer engineering with Edward Sargent at the University of Toronto. She is also an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, materials science and engineering, macromolecular science and engineering, and applied physics. 

She has received several recognitions including the Extraordinary Potential Prize, Rising Stars in EECS, and Nature’s Inspiring Women in Science Runner-Up. Gong is also a senior Schmidt Science Fellow and Amazon Physical Science Fellow.

The Gong Lab at the University of Michigan is pioneering soft electronic materials starting from the molecular level. The lab aims to comprehend their fundamental properties through the utilization of advanced spectroscopies, ultimately pushing forward the development of the next generation of bioelectronics. These advancements are intended for applications in biomedical sensing, soft robotics, and energy harvesting and storage.