Professor Tao Deng’s biggest life motivation is innovation. Ever since he was a child, innovation has fascinated Deng, who grew up inspired by the stories of famous inventors and dreamed of being an inventor to the likes of Leonardo da Vinci or Nikola Tesla.
Achieving his goal, Prof. Deng is now the Zhi Yuan Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the Chinese central government’s Thousand Talents Program Professor. His research focuses on bioinspired materials engineering and bioinspired micro- and nanodevice fabrication, with potential applications in energy transfer and storage, biological and chemical detection, and photonics.
With a long tenure in materials science and chemistry, Deng has always carved his own path. He received degrees in Materials Chemistry from the University of Science and Technology of China and Unconventional Micro- and Nanofabrication Processes and Systems from Harvard University. After obtaining a Ph.D., he joined MIT as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, where he focused his research on micro- and nanophotonics. In 2003, Deng joined General Electric (GE)’s Global Research Center at Niskayuna, New York, USA, as a research scientist, and served as senior scientist and principal investigator for several of GE’s internal and external programs, before moving to Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2012.
Inspired not only by famous inventors, Deng also takes inspiration from films. In particular, his favorite film, Forrest Gump, has inspired him “to be persistent in pursuing [his] own dreams” and to always “be yourself.” Staying true to this advice, when asked if he could be anyone for a moment, Tao said he would rather forgo the opportunity and instead remain himself. His commitment to the first quote speaks for itself.
With broad interests and sources of inspiration, Tao is also interested in research into thermal energy storage and management, and believes that new energy conversion and storage technologies will become hot topics in the future. Ultimately, he would like to see the achievement of unlimited energy generation and utilization technologies, which he sees as important steps towards a sustainable future. This desire builds on the achievements of our predecessors who discovered fire – the most important scientific discovery of all time, in Tao’s opinion – and would once more prove us to be the innovative humans that Deng is so often inspired by.
To learn more about Prof. Deng’s research inspirations and to gain an overview of some recent developments in bioinspired infrared sensing materials and systems, please check out his recent review with co-workers in the Advanced Materials Hall of Fame virtual issue.