One of the research focus areas of Hong Zhao, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, is micro-nano manufacturing through inkjet and electrohydrodynamic printing.
1. What are you working on right now?
My group is working on the development of various printing processes — inkjet printing, electrohydrodynamic printing, extrusion-based 3D printing, etc. — and printed functional devices. This involves intricate material interactions, surface science and surface engineering, and transport and self-assembly of nanoparticles during printing and solvent evaporation.
2. How will developing new printing processes make a difference?
What is so exciting about this topic is the huge variety of smart and functional devices: from printed electronics and energy storage devices to implantable medical devices. This research will accelerate the coming era of smart devices with embedded, high-performance printed electronics — such as garments and health monitoring devices. These will incorporate personalization and functionality and bring brand new experiences into our daily lives.
3. What attracted you to this area?
I have worked on a number of research projects during my Ph.D. studies, my work at an industrial research center and now at VCU. These included flame synthesis of nanomaterials, superhydrophobic and superoleophobic surfaces, liquid-solid interactions and printing process development for both laser and inkjet printing. Since I joined VCU, I initiated my research program that leverages my competency and expertise in printing, surface engineering, material interactions and particle tracking simulations.
5. Has anyone else in the VCU community been working with you?
We have been collaborating with our colleagues on fabricating functional optical devices, wearable electronics and magnetic devices through various printing processes. A new collaboration area is bioprinting. We have initiated some exploration with colleagues in the VCU School of Medicine on printing biomaterials and, eventually, cells.
Fun Fact: A couple of years ago, I overheard my daughter telling her friend, “My mom is an engineer. She can fix anything!” Well, of course, I told her later that Mom can’t fix everything that’s broken, but I definitely love being an engineer!