Waterloo engineering professor awarded the Steacie Memorial Fellowship


Chemical engineering professor Aiping Yu is the most recent recipient of the 2020 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship. She is one of the six nation-wide recipients of the fellowship, which the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) awards  annually  to academic researchers pursuing auspicious pioneering research in the fields of natural sciences and engineering. Recipients of the fellowship receive grants worth $250, 000 over the course of two years – through annual payments of $90,000 made to their institutions. Recipients are  also relieved from their teaching or administrative duties. 

“As a female researcher, it is difficult to balance family life and career development,” Yu says. “I appreciate this award because it gives me two years of teaching relief so I can really take off and fly.”

It was a thrilling experience for Yu, upon hearing the news of being awarded the fellowship. “I was thrilled as that is the highest honor Canada is given to a junior researcher, and it is a national recognition of my research contribution to the academic society,” Yu said. 

Yu is the director of the Applied Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory research group, and her research focuses on carbon nanomaterials, with emphasis on the application of carbon nanotubes and graphene to metal oxides and polymers for supercapacitors

As Yu will be relieved from teaching duties for the next two year, she hopes to spend her time to further dive into exploring the properties of carbon nanomaterials. “My research area is 2D and carbon nanomaterials for renewable energy and polymer composites. In recent years, some new types of 2D nanomaterials, such as MXene and H-BN, emerge and are being developed very fast. Although we have also researched these materials, I would like to use these two years to look deep into it and try to have new findings. It is always easy to discover unknown properties of a new material at an early stage,” Yu said. 

One of Yu’s research goals is to “produce large quantities of carbon materials for renewable energy applications,” as per Yu’s profile on NSERC. The physical properties of carbon nanotubes and graphene allow them to be utilized for multiple applications, ranging from electric vehicles to medical devices. 

“These two materials are the driving forces pushing the entire development of nanotechnology,” Yu said in her feature on Waterloo Stories. “They have amazing physical properties.”

Yu believes the future of carbon nanotechnology is “bright” but it also requires more external attention. “Carbon nanomaterials-based nanotechnology, such as C60, carbon nanotube and graphene has been the driving force for the entire nanotechnology field for more than three decades. You see the Quantum-Nano building [at the UW campus] is holding the graphene frame. The carbon nanotechnology will continue to impact the world through more and more carbon nanomaterials entering the practical applications in electronic, renewable energy, bio-medical, chemical and plastic industry. The future is bright but needs more effort and attention from different aspects such as government support, industry awareness, research innovations and most importantly, more young and smart brains devotion to the field,” Yu said.

Yu’s additional research is on the application of graphene as protection for traditional oil pipelines. Yu’s research lab is utilizing the properties of graphene to create a “nanocarbon-based polymer coating to pipe linings, leading to nearly two-fold increase in oil transport efficiency and reduction in maintenance costs,” as stated on the NSERC website.

“I am grateful that the Faculty of Engineering and University has nominated me for the Steacie award competition, and NSERC has recognized the significance of my research and awarded me with the prize. I feel it is an honor for me, but also an honor for my department too as it is a team effort. Being one of the most innovative camps in Canada, I wish Waterloo will have more researchers awarding this prize in the future,” Yu said. 

The news story is an excerpt from a feature by Brian Caldwell’s “Capitalizing on carbon” on Waterloo Stories.