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Emerging Scholars: Envisioning the Future

Envisioning the Future

Chemical Engineering

Yueh-Lin “Lynn” Loo
Title: Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and General Dynamics Endowed Faculty Fellow, University of Texas at Austin
Education: Ph.D., M.A., Chemical Engineering, Princeton University; B.S.E., Chemical Engineering and B.S.E., Materials Science and Engineering, University of Pennsylvania 
Age: 31

Dr. Lynn Loo spends much of her time envisioning the future: A TV that you can roll up and drop into a carry-on bag for a long flight. Kitchen wallpaper that can be changed with the flick of a wrist. Loo’s research in the emerging field of plastic electronics could help turn those dreams into reality. Plastic electronics use organic and plastic materials to create electronic devices. Much of the work remains firmly in the world of science fiction, but practical applications aren’t far away. The technology would offer advantages over current silicon-based technology because it is lighter and more flexible.

Loo credits her colleagues and administrators at the University of Texas at Austin, where she’s been since 2001, with providing the necessary support, encouragement and infrastructure. “You need someone to pick you up when you’re down,” she says. “Sounding boards are important.”

UT’s atmosphere and its top-ranked chemical engineering department were two of the factors that led Loo to Texas after earning her Ph.D. from Princeton University. She worked at Bell Labs in New Jersey for a year as a researcher, but chose the academic path so she could run a research program, as well as interact with students regularly. In fall 2005, she taught an upper-division course on polymers.

At Bell Labs, she invented nanotransfer printing, an environmentally safe way of putting electric circuits on plastic.

Similar to offset printing, a rubber stamp imprints nanoscale designs onto plastic. Fast and inexpensive, it could be used to make large-area, flexible flat panel displays — like for TVs and wallpaper. Other possible applications include new medical therapies and diagnostics, such as implantable devices that would release a drug when a person’s body temperature changed.

Generally, much of the research in plastic electronics so far has involved discovering polymer combinations that work. Loo, however, focuses on why certain combinations work, so other researchers can use the proper materials to make specific devices. She has published articles in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and other science and technology periodicals.

She tries to model herself after her father, who taught her “if you want to be treated fairly, then be fair yourself.”

That mantra doesn’t surprise Dr. Rick Register, Loo’s dissertation advisor and a Princeton professor. As a graduate student, he says she regularly advised chemical engineering undergraduates, regardless of whether they were full-time students or simply there for the summer.
“She is always wanting to give back,” Register says. “She has an unparalleled love for what she does.”

Loo received a $440,000 National Science Foundation Early Career Devel-opment Award in 2004 and a Beckman Foundation Young Investigator Award last year.

Like many young professionals, Loo considers time management her main challenge as she juggles research, teaching, supervising graduate students, grant writing, student extracurricular activities and a marriage.

“It’s so hard to say ‘no’ to things,” she says. “I don’t find myself sinking, but I know I’m constantly trying to catch my breath.”

She became drawn to science as a child growing up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She was mesmerized even as a young girl by the refinery charts her father brought home from his job at Shell Oil. Her favorite “toys” were test tubes her father brought home from work, or “any other container where I could stir things, whether it was leaves or cut-up worms.”

By Lydia Lum

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