On July 8th, People's Daily published an article regarding Professor Huang YongAn, a young scientist at the School of Mechanical Science and Engineering (HUST). The article centered on his achievements in flexible electronics and related technologies. It highlighted his great breakthroughs in theory frontiers and efforts to enrich the application of these technologies. With passion to work and curiosity for the unknown, his team is progressively turning “science fiction” into reality.
“How many technologies related to flexible electronics can you recognize? Our skin can be soft and stretchable with a multifunctional sense of touch, and our eyes can have deformable retinas, and muscles can be soft, flexible but powerful..." In a popular science lecture, Huang’s vivid explanation inspired students’ imagination.
As the deputy director of the State Key Laboratory of Digital Manufacturing Equipment and Technology and the Flexible Electronics Research Center at HUST, Huang YongAn, a 41-year-old scientist, has won multiple honors; these include: the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars; First Prize of the Hubei Provincial Award for Natural Sciences; Gold Medal with the congratulations of the jury of the Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions – among others. He has published more than 100 academic papers related to flexible electronics, obtained over 70 national invention patents; and the application of his technology is worth over 20 million yuan. From flexible display to robotic, electronic skin and wearable health and medical devices, his research is bringing what was once science fiction into reality.
Exploring the unknown dauntlessly with curiosity
About a decade ago, 30-year-old Huang YongAn first presented his research subject "Flexible Electronic Electrofluid Printing Manufacturing" at a science forum. Electrofluid printing, which he is devoted to, is a technique allowing circuitry to be printed on a flexible substrate. One expert in the field asked, "What can this technology be used for?" At that time, flexible electronics and related technologies were still very unfamiliar to most people – their application prospects were relatively vague. Faced with doubts, Huang could not give an exact answer at that moment. "Your research is very cutting-edge and promising. Be prepared to overcome difficulties and persevere down this road." After the meeting, an expert's encouragement further strengthened his confidence. In 2013, the School of Mechanical Science and Engineering (HUST) and the State Key Laboratory of Digital Manufacturing Equipment and Technology (HUST), where Huang YongAn had been working, began to invest in building a unique, flexible electronic manufacturing laboratory. Since then, he has been innovating and making breakthroughs in flexible electronics manufacturing.
Speaking about personal growth, Huang said, "I was the first college student in my village, and college life opened up a vast world to me and inspired my interest in exploring the unknown." In 2007, Huang received his doctorate from Northwestern Polytechnical University and joined HUST as a teacher. By chance, he came across a paper in the journal of Science showing that silicon can be stretchable- , and is expected to be used in stretchable flexible electronics in the future . "I felt a sudden urge to strive for it." Huang said.
"I like to ask students if they enjoy watching science fiction, or observing nature, and what their expectations of the future are." Huang believes that only with curiosity for the unknown, and the courage to explore, can a man aspire to become a scientist.
Always being innovative one step ahead
As flexible electronics research became increasingly popular, Huang began to think about doing research that no one else had done. "Aircraft have a high requirement for stability, so wind tunnel tests are necessary before flying." Huang explained that wind tunnel tests require fixing the aircraft model in the wind tunnel, and calculating the aerodynamic characteristics of the aircraft in a variety of complex flight states by accurately measuring the speed, pressure, temperature, and other parameters of the airflow, often requiring many tests. However, by covering an aircraft with electronic skin, it can directly ‘perceive’ the environment temperature, friction, pressure, flow rate, and its vibration and strain, health status and so forth, and then upload corresponding data to a computer for subsequent analysis in real-time. In this way, only one wind tunnel test can measure all of the required data, not only greatly shortening the test cycle and reducing cost, but making the measurements more accurate." This research was supported by the key project of the National Natural Science Foundation of China. Huang’s theoretical research on flexible electronic technology have kept making break-throughs while enriching the application of this technology.
“Always being innovative and one step ahead” is his research philosophy. "I often ask students, what is the value of this research? Is there anyone working on it at home or abroad? Why is no one working on it? Did they not think of it? Or couldn’t make it? We don't do what others can", Huang said. Today, scientists all over the world are exploring the application of flexible electronics. Huang said that the development of new equipment, from the basic theory to the technical principle, key technology, and then to the principle of the prototype, engineering prototype, takes almost 10 years; moreover, the future of this market is unknown. Thus, scientists should focus on the frontier and pursue new technology way earlier than the society that grows in need of it.
Let achievements be published in journals and benefit our people
On the screen in the spot of a popular science lecture, a beating "heart" is covered by aureate curves, which is actually an ultrathin and transparent electronic skin for health monitoring." Huang introduced to the audience. In the field of health, flexible electronics has a wide range of applications, such asprosthetic limbs which help the disabled move freely through human-computer interaction, health monitoring services for seniors, and electronic tattoos with the function of smart bracelets. “Our research needs to be published in the journals as well as benefit our people." Huang said.
What is being “useful”? He believes that scientific and technological researchers should pay special attention to the theoretical innovation of cutting-edge science and technology. We should give priority to the publication of papers, but also bear in mind that papers are not the only aim for us. After more than 10 years of exploration in the field of flexible electronics technology, Huang YongAn's team has reaped both theoretical and practical harvests. “Scientific research requires interest, persistence, and ingenuity”, Huang said. Now, he gives himself endless work to be busy with, and he always remains energetic and smiling. Worship towards his research direction, along with unique and wonderful thoughts are the inexhaustible impetus for his scientific research.
Source: People’s Daily
Written by: Li Ruiyao
Edited by: Ma Shengyuan, Scott, Luo Yunfeng, Peng Yumeng