Engineering science and mechanics professor receives lifetime achievement award


By Tessa M. Pick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, recently honored Akhlesh Lakhtakia, Evan Pugh University Professor and Charles Godfrey Binder Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics, with the 2022 SPIE Smart Structures and Materials Lifetime Achievement Award. This award recognizes Lakhtakia’s contributions to the field of smart structures and materials and his impact on the field’s community.

Lakhtakia will receive a certificate and have the opportunity to deliver a plenary talk at the Smart Structures and Nondestructive Evaluation Symposium in March 2023.

“Having attended the symposium for more than a decade, I am well aware of the diverse research communities that congregate annually to share their progress and accomplishments,” Lakhtakia said. “The atmosphere is always friendly and lively, and I have made many friends. These are all dedicated people, very much immersed in research to improve the structures that we use and live in. To be recognized by them is both heartwarming and motivating.”

For several years, Lakhtakia’s research has focused on the development of sculptured thin films, contributing to advancements in the forensic and biomimetic arenas. Lakhtakia’s sculptured thin films work helps to identify latent fingerprints, which has applications in forensic identification.

This work was also used to replicate corneas of insects and the elytra, or forewings, of a type of beetle known as the emerald ash borer, and to create micro-fibrous multifunctional materials that can be used for ultrasonic, biomedical and flexible electronics. Lakhtakia’s additional research interests include electromagnetics of chiral and bianisotropic materials, electromagnetic surface waves, thin-film solar cells and biologically inspired design.

Due to his work on thin films, Lakhtakia contributed to two books that were recently published. He served as a co-editor and as a co-author of a chapter in “Thin Film Nanophotonics,” a book focused on conclusions made at an international workshop held in Iceland focused on thin films for electronics, electro-optics, energy and sensors. The second book, “Theory of Graded-Bandgap Thin-Film Solar Cells,” discusses thin film solar cells. It was co-authored by Lakhtakia with his former doctoral student Faiz Ahmad and longtime collaborator Peter Monk, professor of mathematical sciences at the University of Delaware.

“With funding from the National Science Foundation as well as with the Charles Godfrey Binder Professorship funds, I have been pursuing the idea of thin film solar cells for several years, because such solar cells are rollable and therefore easily portable and deployable,” Lakhtakia said. “If they are made efficient enough, they can transform the lives of underprivileged people.”

Raúl José Martín-Palma, professor of applied physics at the Autonomous University of Madrid and adjunct professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State, nominated Lakhtakia for the SPIE SSM Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Akhlesh has made key contributions to the field of smart structures and materials and has been instrumental in the growth of this very active technoscientific field,” said Martín-Palma. “His intense research activities over the years have had a remarkable impact, not only within SPIE’s smart structures and materials community, but on the broad optics and photonics field at a worldwide level.”


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College of Engineering Media Relations

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Akhlesh Lakhtakia, Evan Pugh University Professor and Charles Godfrey Binder Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics. IMAGE: PENN STATE COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING