Engineer Xin Zhang Awarded 2022 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship
Metamaterials pioneer says award will allow her to devote research to “some of the world’s most interesting and challenging problems”
Fueled by curiosity and a sense of the possible, Xin Zhang has propelled the field of metamaterials—synthetic materials with functional properties not found in nature—to new heights. The College of Engineering professor of mechanical engineering has built devices that could improve the accessibility and quality of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines and cut rampant noise pollution. For her efforts, Zhang has been awarded a 2022 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, which she says will give her the space and funding to devote herself “to some of the world’s most interesting and challenging problems.”
The Brink checked in with Zhang about how being a Guggenheim Fellow will allow her to expand her research in mechanical engineering and materials science, as well as give her the opportunity to take on new challenges.
with Xin Zhang
The Brink: You’ve said that your technologies are designed to improve society. How might they help improve—or already be improving—the lives of people reading this?
Zhang: We have pioneered the development of metamaterials technology related to MRI, with the goal to drive enhancement in signal-to-noise ratio, which may ultimately be leveraged to improve MRI image quality or speed image acquisition. In addition and in parallel, we have developed ultra-open metamaterials (UOMs), which yield the capacity for radically open physical footprints while delivering high-performance acoustic silencing.
The Brink: What might be some new places where you could make an impact: climate change, sustainable development, or perhaps another big global issue?
Zhang: I don’t know yet, but I love to explore and test my limits. With respect to metamaterials related to MRI, I am poised to continue our translation from the lab to the bedside, bringing a revolutionary technology toward clinical use. Though less publicized than its air and water counterparts, noise pollution is a growing problem, and I hope our UOMs can help make the world a quieter place.
The Brink: What advice would you have for someone—perhaps a student or prospective student—inspired by your story and who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Zhang: I believe that in order to solve a problem, you have to take ownership of it. Thanks to all of my past and current students, who have embraced each project from the beginning—they are pushing me to a higher level and motivating me to do better.
The Brink: What inspires your curiosity?
Zhang: As you get older and you realize you really don’t know as much as you think you know, curiosity becomes a natural part of your life. It is fun!