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Yadong Yin

Professor of Chemistry
Yadong Yin
Designer Nanomaterials
When chemically manufactured at nanoscale, the lowly compound iron oxide (rust) takes on extraordinary properties, including a brilliant palette of magnetically tunable colors that can be used for color printing and making electronic displays, paints and cosmetics. Making these kinds of nanomaterial discoveries is the mission of UCR’s Yadong Yin, ranked second in the world among materials science researchers and a top 100 chemist of the decade.

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • The formation and properties of nanostructures
  • Synthesis of nanomaterials
  • Self-assembly of nanoscale electronic and photonic devices
  • Composite nanomaterials
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Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Top 100 Chemist of the Decade (2011)
  • Ranked second, Materials Science Researchers in the World (2011)
  • Cottrell Scholar Award (2009-12)
  • NSF Career Award (2010-15)
  • Distinguished Junior Faculty Award (2010)
  • 3M Nontenured Faculty Grant Award (2010)
  • DuPont Young Professor Grant Award (2010)


Q: Describe your research and its applications.
My research focuses on the synthesis of nanomaterials, a class of materials with special properties stemming from their nanoscale morphological features. These materials are sometimes referred to as “artificial atoms” because the density of their electronic states—which controls many physical properties—can be widely and easily tuned by adjusting composition, size, shape, crystal structure and surface properties. In order to obtain new properties, we chemically synthesize these materials, control their size and form, and assemble them into particular geometric arrangements. These new materials have applications in many areas, including display, security documents, cosmetics, biomedical devices, and energy.

Q: Why is your work important?
My research creates an efficient pathway for producing many new types of materials with unique applications. When reduced to the nanoscale, materials can suddenly show very different properties compared with those they exhibit on a bulk scale. An interesting example is the magnetically responsive photonic nanostructures that we developed in the past a few years. We made iron oxide, which generally appears as rust in the bulk scale, into specially structured nanoparticles through chemical synthesis. A water solution containing these nanoparticles can respond to magnetic fields by showing various brilliant colors. This extraordinary property can only be achieved by designing the iron oxide materials at the nanoscale.

Q: How does your research benefit society?
Depending on the specific material, they will benefit the society in many ways. For example, the magnetically responsive photonic materials we created may be used for making low-powered electronic papers that can be reused many times, thus saving energy and the environment. Another project that we are currently working on is synthesizing highly efficient photocatalysts that can produce hydrogen gas from water under sunlight, thus providing society with clean fuels.

Q: What challenges remain in your research?
The ultimate goal of my research is to develop new nanostructured materials that can solve society’s problems. How to produce nanoscale materials with the desired size and morphology has remained a challenge, but the more difficult job is how to organize these small nanomaterials into the desired geometric arrangements to achieve particular functions.

Q: How soon could this research go to market?
We are currently working with a company to commercialize some of our technologies. I would expect to see these products in the marketplace within a few years.

Q: What is the biggest myth about your research on nanostructured devices?
The biggest myth is that nanomaterials are omnipotent—they can do everything and solve all existing problems. This is certainly not true. Many researchers intentionally exaggerate the power of nanotechnology and nanomaterials for funding purposes. Nanomaterials are just new materials which can do many things that were impossible before, but they still have their own limitations. For example the magnetically responsive photonic materials we developed may find great use in electronic paper and security documents, but they might perform poorly if used for video displays.

Q: What does “Living the Promise” mean to you?
It reminds me that besides fun, our motivation to do research is to solve problems facing the society.

Q: What movies, documentaries or TV programs have you recently found interesting and/or inspiring?
I recently watched the BBC series “Planet Earth” and I was really amazed by the beauty of the natural world. I feel lucky to live on this planet. We need to change the way we do things today to ensure that we save our planet.

Q: In your spare time, what are you reading?
History books. Everything has a history. It is fun to see how things and views change over time.

Q: How do your students inspire you?
I get inspiration from my students by chatting with them. I usually spend two or three hours in the lab every day talking to students on random topics, but mostly about research. My students like to gather around me when I talk and give me suggestions about research projects. I simply collect their ideas, digest them, and give back to the students.

Q: What advice do you have for students graduating in the next five years?
Try to make small progress every day even if you set your big goal five years in the future.
Yadong Yin “When reduced to nanoscale, materials can show very different properties compared with bulk manufacturing, giving us new materials that can do many things that were impossible before.”

—Yadong Yin
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