Mechanical engineering professor wins Beckman Young Investigator Award

Chris Mendez

Mechanical engineering assistant professor Yuebing Zheng received the Beckman Young Investigator award in August and will use the prize money to develop a mobile medical diagnosis device. 

The $750,000 prize will help fund Zheng’s development of “Virtual Plasmonic Tweezers,” a touch-screen device capable of manipulating cells and biomolecules, over the next four years. 

“Everyone in the world can have the device,” Zheng said. “It’s like a cell phone in that it provides accessibility. It’s low cost and user-friendly. You just touch a screen, and it causes the cell to move.” 

According to Zheng, the device has the potential to greatly enhance medical research and bring health care to undeveloped countries. He said the device’s development is a collaboration between his department, colleagues and students. 

“This project has been very interdisciplinary, involving biology, chemistry and biomedical engineering students,” Zheng said. “I hope this project will help motivate the research of undergraduates and make them be active in the lab. Having highly motivated students be involved with this project will help in achieving our final goal.” 

One of the students working on the device, Mingsong Wang, mechanical engineering graduate student, said the device will be useful in a number of fields. 

“I was interested in this project because of its broad applications,” Wang said. “It’s a very interesting phenomenon that will serve as a useful device to biologists, chemists and others. [The research] is exciting also because of the unknown challenges we’ll face.”

Throughout the development of the device, Jayathi Murthy, department of mechanical engineering chair, said Zheng’s project utilized a unique approach to research. Murthy also said that although Zheng has only worked as a professor on campus for a year, his research will be a great asset to the University.

“We provided signature startup funds, research support, graduate support and reduced teacher loads in order to facilitate research,” Murthy said. “Professor Zheng represents mechanical engineering changing to nontraditional methods of interdisciplinary research.”