mechanical engineering professor

Guihua Yu, a mechanical engineering assistant professor, stands in one of the two labs he works in daily with his students — specifically with hydrogels, which are networks of hydrophilic polymer chains.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

A mechanical engineering professor at the University was named to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s list of “35 Innovators Under 35.”

Guihua Yu was recognized last week on the list, which works to advance society through novel technological creations and applications, according to the list’s website. The list has also named notable innovators in the past, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

“This is not only a great honor for the [research] group members but also a valuable recognition for the engineering scientific works at UT-Austin,” said Borui Liu, a graduate student who works in Yu’s research group in the Materials Science and Engineering program.

The work done in Yu’s lab relates to hydrogels, which are networks of hydrophilic polymer chains that are highly absorbent and possess a degree of natural flexibility — much like human tissue. According to Yu, hydrogels have been used as a mechanism in drug delivery and as scaffolds for tissue engineering in the past, but the utility of these materials has been limited.

“Due to the intrinsic insulating properties, hydrogels are rarely useful for electronics and energy-related applications,” Yu said. 

The recognition from MIT was prompted after Yu’s research group created a hydrogel with a new nanostructure design that can transmit and store electricity.

“We would like to witness our conductive hydrogels to be put into use in a variety of daily-life applications, such as lithium-ion battery and supercapacitor electrodes, biosensors and drug delivery devices,” Liu said.

This year’s edition of the list brought Yu’s research group and its work prominence in scientific literature, and a variety of large technology companies have been in contact about the future applications of conductive hydrogels. 

According to Yu, increased funding may come in light of the list’s recognition, as well as future research in the field of conductive hydrogels both at UT and elsewhere.

“Knowing the interesting applications we demonstrated will attract more researchers to push together and make more exciting discoveries,” Yu said.

A mechanical engineering professor received an award from the University’s Austin Technology Incubator for his contributions toward helping future technological entrepreneurs Wednesday.

Michael Webber, an associate mechanical engineering professor and UT alumnus, is the inaugural recipient of the John Sibley Butler Distinguished Alumni Award. The award is presented only to alumni of the Austin Technology Incubator, a support program for students interested in creating their own technology start-ups.

Webber, a member of the program’s leadership staff, said he believes receiving the award could be a result of his longstanding involvement in Austin Technology Incubator, also known as ATI.

John Butler, the award’s namesake and former director of University research institute IC2 — Institute for Innovation, Creativity and Capital — which ATI is part of, said Webber’s professional past has been essential to ATI’s success.

“[Webber] grew up at Austin Technology Incubator,” Butler said. “He was an intern at ATI … [and then became] a professor at UT. It’s important that he understands how to create a company.”

Webber said ATI’s focus on fostering student mentorships with established professionals in the field is important for producing successful student entrepreneurs.

“I think that the incubator is not producing products, but instead it’s producing people, entrepreneurs,” Webber said. “Students are an important part of that recipe. It’s really important because if you look at the most impressive [company] startups, they are mostly started by students — Google, Yahoo, Facebook.”

ATI also presented the Laura J. Kilcrease Civic Entrepreneurship Award to ATI alum Manoj Saxena, a software entrepreneur who works with IBM.

The Kilcrease Award is meant to recognize those who have not only succeeded as technological entrepreneurs, but have also taken significant steps to give back to their community and mentor student entrepreneurs.

Laura Kilcrease, the award’s namesake and founding director of ATI, said the award is important to students interested in pursuing entrepreneurship.

“It means a lot [for students], because people like Manoj [Saxena] hire graduates of UT and also come back and act as mentors to students,” Kilcrease said. “[Saxena] is someone who has been active in helping our students and faculty. How many times does a student get an opportunity to be in front of a serial entrepreneur and get mentorship and advice from them?”

Kilcrease also emphasized both Webber and Saxena are influential to the success of other entrepreneurs in multiple ways.

“What they epitomize is how the University both helps to grow successful entrepreneurs in our region and, through ATI’s internship program, helps to grow future faculty, like Michael Webber,” Kilcrease said.