Noteworthy potential may include invisible plastics

Bin Li and Katie Zhong. (Photo by Michelle White)
PULLMAN – Important research by a WSU doctoral student has earned him a prestigious award and even opened the future possibility of invisible plastics.
Bin Li, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, recently received a second place award in the Flightglobal Achievement Award: Boeing Engineering Student of the Year competition. The annual global contest honors students whose work has or will have a significant impact on the engineering field, especially in the area of aerospace engineering.
Li was nominated for the award by his adviser, Weihong (Katie) Zhong, a professor in mechanical and materials engineering (MME), for his work in multifunctional nanocomposites.
“Bin Li is the most outstanding student researcher in my past 16 years’ experience as a professor in academia,” said Zhong. “I am certain that by the time he achieves his doctorate from WSU, he will be an internationally known leader in one of the most important new areas of materials science.”
Li’s accomplishments include more than 30 published papers (journals and conferences), 12 for which he was lead author, and several presentations.
In particular, Li is conducting important research in metamaterials, materials that do not exist under natural conditions. These materials have negative permittivity and negative permeability, which means that electromagnetic waves will move around, rather than through them. The result is that these materials have very unusual properties, including the potential of being invisible.
While other researchers have developed metals and ceramics with negative permittivity, Li was the first to find the possibility of such behavior in polymer composites, or plastics. While development of such a flexible, lightweight, plastic metamaterial is still many years away, it holds the potential for many important applications.
Li’s groundbreaking paper in 2009 on the topic is considered to be highly significant.
At WSU, Li has received the Graduate School Travel Award and the MME Outstanding Ph.D. Researcher Award. Originally from Jiangsu, China, he came to WSU in 2008 after receiving his master’s degree in China.

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