Dr. Xueju Wang Receives Orr Early Career Award from ASME

Dr. Xueju "Sophie" Wang
Dr. Xueju “Sophie” Wang

Dr. Xueju “Sophie” Wang, Assistant Professor of Materials Science, has been selected to receive the 2021 American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Orr Early Career Award for “impactful contributions to the fundamental understanding of fracture mechanics of chemomechanically active materials and interfacial failure between hard and soft materials”.

The ASME ORR Early Career Award was established in 2004 as a Material Division award. The endowment supporting the award was made possible by a generous donation from the Orr family. The award recognizes early career research excellence in the areas of experimental, computational, or theoretical fatigue, fracture, or creep.

Dr. Wang joined the UConn faculty in the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Department in 2020. She received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, completed her postdoctoral at Northwestern University, and is a former assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Her research interests include nanomechanics and micromechanics of advanced materials; energy storage and conversion; and flexible/stretchable/bio-integrated electronics.

Dr. Wang answered a few questions about her research for IMS News:

What is chemomechanics and how is it relative to your research around materials failure?
Chemomechanics of materials, as an exciting and fast-growing field, refers to the coupling between chemistry and mechanics in material systems like lithium-ion batteries (LIBs), the most popular energy storage devices for consumer electronics and electric vehicles. LIBs are composed of three major components: cathode, anode, and electrolyte. During the charging and discharging of a battery, the lithiation and delithiation processes may cause large volume changes (up to 400%) of the electrode material, especially for high-performance anode materials like silicon and germanium, which usually induces stress buildup and failure of the battery. The mechanical deformation of the electrode material, in return, affects the transport of lithium ions in the material and therefore charging and discharging of the battery. This called chemo-mechanical coupling or chemomechanics of the battery material, which is critically important to study in order to avoid mechanical failure and improve the battery performance for various applications.

What is the goal of your current research around the fracture mechanics of chemomechanically active materials and interfacial failure between hard and soft materials?
The goal is to address mechanical failure issues in material systems for applications from energy storage to biomedical devices. More specifically, I aim to improve the mechanical reliability of high-performance LIBs and all-solid-state batteries which replace the potentially flammable liquid electrolyte in conventional batteries with solid ones for improved safety. I also aim to facilitate the integration of flexible electronics with soft biology for health monitoring and disease treatment by addressing the interfacial failure between hard electronics materials and soft biological tissues.

What industries could possibly benefit from the results of your research and in what ways?
Electric vehicle companies such as Tesla can significantly benefit from improved battery performance because the research can potentially improve the mileage and reduce the cost of the vehicle. In addition, companies related to biomedical devices will benefit my research on hard/soft material interfaces due to its potential impact on improving the device performance.

What was your reaction to being notified that you are the recipient of this year’s ASME Orr Early Career Award?
I was very excited when I was notified that I was selected to receive the award because it is such a prestigious award to recognize early career research excellence. It is a great honor to be the recipient of the award and to receive recognition from the professional community.

You’re fairly new to UConn. How are you finding your experience so far?
Despite the pandemic, my experience has been great so far. I would like to thank the tremendous support from IMS, which made my transition to UConn much easier and my starting at UConn very quickly.

As a young woman researcher, do you have advice for young girls interested in STEM?
As a young woman researcher, I highly encourage young girls interested in STEM to explore this exciting and fast-growing field. When I was a young girl, I was always encouraged by my mom to explore beyond limits, which I have benefited from significantly and will benefit from for my lifetime. Now as a mom of a 5-year-old girl, I always encourage my daughter to explore what she is interested in exploring. Also, I shared my research with middle and high school students when I was a graduate student at Georgia Tech. I could feel the excitement of young girls in the STEM field, but they may need more guidance and courage to enter this field. As a faculty member, I plan to continue to dedicate part of my career to attracting young girls to the engineering field and to help them succeed. I have planned some activities to outreach to young girls as part of my NSF grant, although there has been some delay due to the pandemic.