New engineering faculty to study structural materials in extreme environments


By Tessa M. Pick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Yang Yang, a researcher in the field of structural materials and electron microscopy, joined the Penn State Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics as an assistant professor on June 1. As a part of Yang’s appointment, he also will serve as a faculty member in the Materials Research Institute.

“We are very excited to have Dr. Yang and his unique expertise in the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics,” said Judith Todd, department head of engineering science and mechanics. “He is an expert in advanced transmission and scanning transmission electron microscopy who uses in-situ electron microscopy techniques and multi-scale experiments to study materials in extreme environments. Dr. Yang’s long-term goal is to establish Penn State as a leading center for the study of interfaces in extreme environments, with unique advanced characterization systems that will benefit all materials researchers at Penn State and beyond.”

As he begins his career at Penn State, Yang plans to focus on three main points of action — research, teaching and service.

Yang’s research focuses on the degradation of structural materials in harsh environments, such as high temperature, mechanical deformation, corrosion and radiation damage. He uses advanced electron microscopy to study how microstructures and defects in materials respond to extreme conditions. Yang’s research will help in the development of more robust materials to be used in structures such as bridges, aircrafts and advanced energy systems.

“This is very important research because structural materials, especially metals, are very vital to human society,” Yang said. “Automobiles, aircraft, bridges and buildings — all of these systems need materials that last a long time and any type of failure in their structural components may lead to accidents or disasters.”

As part of the Materials Research Institute, Yang will work in the Materials Characterization Lab and contribute his expertise in advanced transmission electron microscopy and the understanding of the materials’ structure-performance relationship. He plans to work with scientists and engineers across the institute, including researchers in mechanical engineering, materials science, chemical engineering, nuclear engineering and energy science.

“We are so happy that Dr. Yang is here,” said Clive Randall, director of the Materials Research Institute and distinguished professor of materials science and engineering. “I anticipate him being a major intellectual force on in situ chemical and structural changes under hostile environmental conditions, driving progress in catalysis science, corrosion of infrastructure and interfacial processing effects under additive manufacturing.”

Yang is looking forward to the opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary institute like Penn State and collaborate with faculty members from across the University to start his own research group.

“My research is at the intersection of materials science, nuclear engineering, and engineering science and mechanics,” he said. “Penn State is one of the few universities in the United States that offers all of these disciplines. All of these programs are ranked nationally and that makes collaboration across disciplines very smooth for researchers at Penn State.”

Since this position at Penn State is Yang’s first teaching role, he said he plans to frequently converse with other faculty members to develop his teaching philosophy.

“I want my teaching to have a pyramid-shaped approach,” Yang said. “At the base of the pyramid will be fundamental and experimental knowledge, the middle is student curiosity and motivation, and at the top is a vision for the future.”

In his first course — strength of materials (EMCH 213) — Yang plans to bring real-world situations into his lectures and provide vivid examples of his research to keep students interested and engaged.

Before joining Penn State, Yang worked in several national laboratories as a facility user and researcher, including Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and, most recently, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

Yang earned his bachelor’s degree in nuclear science and technology from the University of Science and Technology of China and his doctoral degree in nuclear engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


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Yang Yang, a researcher in the field of structural materials and electron microscopy, joined the Penn State Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics as an assistant professor on June 1. IMAGE: PROVIDED BY YANG YANG