min read
A- A+
collage of six people with awards, four male and two female

2023 Roy Award winners include, clockwise from top left, Amrita Basik, Elizabeth Elacqua, Wenjie Li, Seng Huat Lee, Sarbashis Das and Tyus Yeingst. Credit: Materials Research Institute.

By Jamie Oberdick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Six Penn State materials researchers have received the 2023 Rustum and Della Roy Innovation in Materials Research Award, covering a wide range of research with societal impact. The award is presented by the Materials Research Institute (MRI) and recognizes recent interdisciplinary materials research at Penn State that yields innovative and unexpected results.  

The award includes three categories: Early Career Faculty, Non-Tenure Faculty, and Research Staff and Graduate Student. It exists thanks to a gift from Della and Rustum Roy, who are both late alumni of Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and were long-serving faculty in the college.  

This year’s winners, listed below, were announced at the 2023 Materials Day event in October.  

Early Career Faculty category

Amrita Basak, assistant professor of mechanical engineering 

Basak’s work is built around high-impact transdisciplinary research that addresses the global requirement of sustainable manufacturing in power generation, propulsion, defense, energy storage and construction. For metals, her research group uses laser powder bed fusion and laser directed energy deposition techniques to process high-performance materials such as iron and nickel alloys and oxide-dispersed strengthened alloys. Her research group is also interested in learning what makes certain materials have superior properties and how to use them.  

“Our research has the potential to improve properties of parts fabricated by 3D printing reducing cost and material wastage,” Basak said. “These would result in higher performance. For example, if we can make parts that can withstand high temperatures, gas turbines' efficiency would increase.” 

Elizabeth Elacqua, assistant professor of chemistry 

Elacqua’s research group focuses on developing ways to synthesize new polymers. This research is nature-inspired and founded on using polymer chemistry to address bottlenecks in organic synthesis and using organic chemistry to address challenges in polymer synthesis. Her group also studies the use of abundant chemicals, such as those left over from the petroleum refining process, to make new rigid, diamond-like polymers. 

“The polymers we are making thus far have specific applications ranging from light-promoted catalysis to organic semiconductors and high tensile strength materials,” Elacqua said. “While everything is still in its infancy, we can envision accessing polymers that are integral components of future technologies, such as solar cells and composite materials.” 

Non-Tenure Faculty and Research Staff category  

Seng Huat Lee, assistant research professor of bulk crystal growth 

Lee’s research revolves around new quantum materials, unique substances with extraordinary properties that make them of interest for developing faster computers and advanced energy systems. He works to develop new quantum materials with tailored properties, particularly materials that potentially generate new types of quantum technologies. He uses various bulk growth techniques to synthesize and discover emergent quantum phenomena on bulk single crystals, which are crystals that form as a single, uniform piece which gives them unique behaviors. 

“Government agencies have recognized the importance of developing novel quantum materials,” Lee said. “Quantum materials hold the potential to revolutionize numerous industries, encompassing quantum information science, energy harvesting and telecommunications, by ushering in next-generation technologies.” 

Wenjie Li, associate research professor of materials science and engineering 

Li's research focuses on the development of sustainable and renewable energy conversion materials and devices. One example is converting waste heat energy to useful electricity using thermoelectric materials. This research emphasizes both materials innovation and translation of materials properties to device and system performance to deliver practical solutions. 

“My research focuses on materials and device innovations to accelerate science-based solutions that solve pressing societal problems in the area of energy, climate and environmental sustainability,” Li said. “My research can ultimately contribute to development of sustainable and renewable energy supplies and decarbonizations that can benefit everyone.” 

Graduate Student category 

Sarbashis Das, graduate student in electrical engineering 

Das's research includes work to start a 2D materials foundry which will make the high-quality films grown by MRI’s Two-Dimensional Crystal Consortium Materials Innovation Platform available to the commercial marketplace. This was inspired by his participation in the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program, which is for university-based researchers interested in exploring the commercialization potential of their work. His research also involves developing commercial artificial intelligence-aided graphene chemical sensors for use in real-time detection of food spoilage, adulteration and contamination in food processing facilities. 

"Our efforts will potentially lead to the mainstream adoption of 2D materials and their fascinating properties to solve real-world challenges,” Das said. “The use of 2D materials for real-time food spoilage sensors will enable us to tackle the global problem of food safety in a scalable and sustainable manner. Apart from food, this technology could have broad applications such as real-time monitoring of corrosion in critical infrastructure, which will improve public safety." 

Tyus Yeingst, graduate student in biomedical engineering 

Yeingst’s research focuses on biomaterials, specifically hard polymers, hydrogels and nanoparticles. The applications of these biomaterials are for tissue regeneration and cancer treatment. These materials are controlled using high-intensity focused ultrasound and near-infrared light to properly deliver and release the therapeutics. Along with his Roy Award, he was recognized as one of six Penn State graduate students to win the prestigious National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

“Applications for my research include bone regeneration for those suffering from aging, osteomyelitis, cancer and battlefield injuries,” Yeingst said. “Cancer treatment also covers a large base of the population, as everyone knows someone or is someone who has been affected by cancer.”