Two engineering faculty members receive 2024 Faculty Scholar Medals

March 26, 2024

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared on Penn State News 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two engineering faculty members were among the six recipients of the 2024 Faculty Scholar Medals for Outstanding Achievement. Enrique Gomez, professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering and by courtesy materials science and engineering in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Tak-Sing Wong, professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering, were both recognized with the award. 

Established in 1980, the award recognizes scholarly or creative excellence represented by a single contribution or a series of contributions around a coherent theme. A committee of peers reviews nominations and selects candidates. 

Enrique Gomez 

Nominators said Gomez is an expert on advanced soft material characterization techniques and was selected for his groundbreaking work in the understanding of water treatment membranes that use these materials. He earned the Faculty Scholar Medal for Engineering. 

Nominators called his work “world-leading” while referring to his applications of electron microscopy, spectroscopy and X-ray scattering as “difficult and novel, departing from past methods and utilizing a wide range of techniques.” 

Gomez’s work is critical to solving one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: water and sanitation. According to the U.N., 2.2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water, and 3.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation. Research such as Gomez’s membrane separations is a low-energy approach to solving that, nominators said. His research, which was featured on the cover of the research journal Science in 2021, demonstrates how polymer thin films can be used in water purification. Additionally, he’s revealed ways of improving membrane performance for biopharmaceutical processing, such as virus removal filters. 

“Dr. Gomez’s scholarship and innovation over the past five years has led to his transformative application of advanced material characterization techniques to polymeric membranes,” a nominator said. “This work has already had significant international influence; it has the potential to impact billions globally.” 

Gomez received numerous awards for his research, including the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Creativity Award in 2023, and the American Chemical Society’s Cooperative Award in 2022. He was named a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2021 and a fellow of the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering Division of the American Chemical Society in 2024. He’s been invited to speak more than 30 times in the past five years. 

The NSF, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Department of Energy currently fund his research. He leads the Center for Self-Assembled Organic Electronics for ONR, which is a $7.5 million collaborative research project. 

Nominators also cited Gomez’s commitment to improving diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at Penn State. He serves as the College of Engineering’s interim associate dean for equity and inclusion and was recently associate head for diversity, equity and inclusion for the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. In 2023, he was awarded Penn State’s Charles Hosler Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Faculty Award. 

“Water purification is one of the defining challenges of our generation, and Dr. Gomez has made key, transformative advances in this area,” a nominator said. “His remarkable creative contributions have leveraged the world-class research environment and resources at Penn State, including cutting-edge electron microscopy facilities. His creative achievements are an example of how Penn State can make an impact in addressing some of the most pressing problems that our society faces today.” 

Tak-Sing Wong 

Nominators said Wong is being honored for his pioneering research and inventions in the field of slippery liquid-infused surfaces. He earned the Faculty Scholar Medal for entrepreneurship, technology transfer and economic development. 

“Tak-Sing’s exceptional creativity and intellectual prowess have led to the development of entirely unprecedented bio-inspired materials, representing a significant leap forward in scientific innovation,” a nominator said. “He has undeniably reshaped the trajectory of interfacial science and engineering with his revolutionary and genuinely innovative contributions to the theoretical and experimental advancement of bio-inspired materials. Through his pioneering work, Wong harnessed these materials in creative and impactful engineering applications, some of which were previously beyond imagination.” 

Wong is internationally recognized for his slippery surfaces inventions, which was inspired by the Nepenthes pitcher plant, including slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces (SLIPS), slippery-rough surfaces (SRS), and liquid-entrenched smooth surfaces (LESS). These technologies led to the creation of liquid-repellent coating design and development, leading to hundreds of related patents from Fortune Global 500 companies, including several of his own. As director of the Laboratory for Nature-Inspired Engineering, Wong also led the development of self-healing surgical films and synthetic brochosomes. 

“Dr. Wong has devoted significant effort to remarkable success in translating his fundamental research from the lab to commercialization, thereby expanding the impact of his work,” a nominator said. “His achievements as an inventor are demonstrated by 65 issued and pending patents.” 

In the past five years, Wong was granted 19 U.S. patents and 17 international patents. His patents related to liquid-infused coatings have been licensed to three multimillion-dollar companies, for products used in the medical, sanitation, marine, automotive and consumer packaged goods industries. 

In 2018, Wong co-founded spotLESS Materials Inc., which creates products that aim to tackle global issues of sanitation and water scarcity. Procter & Gamble called the company’s sprayable, nonfouling, liquid-infused surface coating one of the top innovations in the P&G Innovation Challenge in 2021. It also won the TechConnect Innovation Award in 2021. These products are now being used in all 50 states and in 28 countries. 

Wong’s research has been supported by the NSF, ONR, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Institutes of Health, and the Advanced Projects Research Agency – Energy. 

“Wong’s groundbreaking contributions in pioneering a new class of biomimetic liquid-repellent coatings have profoundly influenced both academic research, industrial applications, and beyond in the last decade,” a nominator said. “He epitomizes Penn State’s commitment to scientific discovery, technology innovation and global impact.” 


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