Yao, director of Imaging and Analysis Center, named AAAS fellow

By The Office of Engineering Communications
November 24, 2020

Nan Yao, the founding director of Princeton’s Imaging and Analysis Center, has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Yao and five other Princeton faculty members are among 489 AAAS members elected as fellows this year, honoring their efforts toward advancing science applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished.

Portrait of researcher

Yao, who is also a senior research scholar and lecturer with the rank of professor in the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, was cited by AAAS “for outstanding achievements in materials and structural analysis and distinguished contributions in related education, research, and service to advance science and engineering and their applications.”

His research uses advanced imaging, diffraction, spectroscopy and in-situ techniques, in tandem with theoretical simulations, to study fundamental properties of nanostructured materials, biomaterials, organic/inorganic interfaces, and other complex materials. With colleagues including Paul Steinhardt, Princeton’s Albert Einstein Professor in Science and a professor of physics, in 2009 Yao co-discovered the first natural quasicrystal, a finding that has revolutionized the science of natural crystal chemistry by identifying the third form of solid in nature besides crystalline and non-crystalline. In 2015, Yao’s transmission electron microscopy results provided evidence for the discovery of the second quasicrystal of any kind found in nature, a novel natural quasicrystal with decagonal symmetry. These discoveries, which came from the study of meteorite samples that formed about 4.5 billion years ago, could answer basic questions about how materials were formed in our universe. Yao’s work has also enabled the discovery of a 650-million-year-old sponge-like organism, the earliest evidence of such animal forms in the fossil record; and helped identify the earliest known use of diamond in 4,000 B.C.

As an educator, Yao created and directs a teaching curriculum in materials characterization at Princeton. He has also developed an outreach program of short courses and workshops in materials science, which are offered to students at Princeton and other universities and to industry scientists. Yao has received four Excellence in Teaching Awards from the Princeton Engineering Council, and been named six times to the Commendation List for Outstanding Teaching by the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He is a faculty fellow of Princeton’s Whitman College, and a fellow of the Microscopy Society of America and the Royal Microscopical Society in the U.K.

After receiving a Ph.D. in applied physics and electron microscopy from Arizona State University, Yao worked as a researcher at the Shell Development Company and at the ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. He joined Princeton in 1993 to help build the University’s interdisciplinary Imaging and Analysis Center, which has since become a world-leading materials characterization center.