Paul W. Leu wasn’t exactly a traditional faculty member when he arrived at the Department of Industrial Engineering in 2010. As an undergrad, he studied mechanical engineering at Rice University and received his PhD from Stanford University. His postdoctoral research in electrical engineering at the University of California Berkeley began his cross-discipline approach, but he didn’t stop there. Today, Dr. Leu has begun to receive recognition for the innovation and creativity of applying new techniques to reoccurring problems in engineering. He’s looking for flexible metal structures that can be used for solar cells, transparent conductors, smart clothing or smart paper and a range of other applications rigid and brittle metals can’t do. To find them, he utilizes new statistical methods similar to the algorithms used by Amazon or Netflix.
“The trial and error process is very tedious and repetitive, and at best, we get a very limited body of some very small region of the parameter space. The idea here is to be able to look at a much larger and wider body of structures using statistical methods. There are services available that can determine what movies you might like to watch or what you might want to purchase. We are taking a similar approach with various design parameters to determine potential configurations based on the designer’s or researcher’s intuition,” said Dr. Leu. A recent grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) will help fund Dr. Leu’s research into “soft materials” that are flexible, lightweight and easy to install. The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award is the NSF’s most prestigious award for junior faculty who exemplify outstanding research, teaching and outreach. Dr. Leu will receive $500,000 over five years for support. “It’s been a long term goal of mine to incorporate more industrial engineering optimization techniques or statistical methods – things you might see more in operations research – into materials design and manufacturing,” said Dr. Leu. “The CAREER award for junior faculty is recognition of some of the work you’ve already done, but it’s also to put you on the track to do high-impact research and become a leader in your field.” The CAREER award focuses on three parameters: research, teaching and outreach. Funding from the grant will help create a new graduate course based on Dr. Leu’s research and the statistical design of materials. Dr. Leu currently teaches undergraduate courses in Engineering Product Design, Fundamentals of Micro and Nano Manufacturing and Introduction to Solar Cells and Nanotechnology.