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MNTL faculty researcher Li receives COE Willett Faculty Scholar Award


ECE Associate Professor and MNTL researcher Xiuling Li has received a Donald Biggar Willett Faculty Scholar award, which recognizes mid-career College of Engineering faculty who excel in their contributions to the university. An Illinois faculty member since 2007, Li’s research is focused on nanostructured semiconductor materials and devices.

Her group’s nanowire-based research is impacting next-generation integrated circuit technology. In December, Li demonstrated nanowire transistors made from gallium arsenide that can switch faster than today’s ubiquitous silicon transistors. Her patented novel approach used gold nanoparticles to grow the nanowires horizontally, rather than using conventional device fabrication methods that require many processing steps.

Li’s group is also pursuing innovations based on two other patent portfolios — metal-assisted chemical etching (MacEtch) nanotechnology to form high aspect ratio semiconductor nanostructures that could be used in silicon solar cells, LEDs, laser diodes, and other device applications; and 3D self-rolled-up membrane (S-RUM) technology enabled by a strain-induced spontaneous deformation process that may greatly reduce the on-chip footprint and significantly improve the performance of devices for radio frequency integrated circuits, including inductors, transformers, and filters.

In collaboration with biomedical researchers at the Universities of Wisconsin and Illinois, Li’s group created arrays of silicon nitride rolled-up tubes on glass slides that encourage neurons to grow rapidly in specific directions. This work demonstrated that nanotubes could potentially be used to design networks of neurons in cultures. Someday, the tubes could help neurons grow long distances to repair injuries or rebuild severed nerve bundles.

Most recently, Li was part of a team that developed a unique process for geometrically transforming two dimensional (2D) micro/nanostructures into extended 3D layouts by exploiting mechanics principles similar to those found in children’s pop-up books. This work was featured on the January 9, 2015, cover of Science magazine.

About the Willett award

The Willett Research Initiatives in Engineering supports scholarships, fellowships, research awards, and other activities. It honors the memory of Donald Biggar Willett (1897-1981) who attended the University of Illinois from 1916-1921. Mr. Willett left the University six credits short of earning his civil engineering degree. He started his career as a partner in the family business, Suburban Coal and Supply Company, and later, worked as a self-employed bookkeeper and tax preparer. In 1994, his widow, Elizabeth Marie Willett, willed her entire estate to the College of Engineering, which established the Willett Research Initiatives Fund.