Professor Nan Yao is the founding director of Princeton's preeminent Imaging and Analysis Center and Inaugural Professor of the Practice at Princeton University. As a faculty member, Yao has been an eleven-time recipient of the Excellence in Teaching and Commendation for Outstanding Teaching Award at Princeton, where he has taught more than 4500 students, postdocs, and researchers. As a research scholar, Yao has over 300 scientific publications with notable contributions, including the co-discovery of the first natural quasicrystal with 5-fold symmetry that was believed for centuries to be impossible. This finding has revolutionized the science of crystal chemistry by identifying the third form of solid in nature besides crystalline and non-crystalline. Yao has always been committed to pushing the boundaries of science and engineering to benefit academia, industry, and society in myriad ways.

Yao is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a fellow of the Microscopy Society of America, and a member of the EU Academy of Sciences. His research utilizes advanced imaging, diffraction, spectroscopy, and in-situ techniques, in tandem with computer simulation, to conduct fundamental studies of the structure-composition-processing-property relationships in complex materials for applications in nanotechnology, energy, environment, and health. Yao has published two books, Handbook of Microscopy for Nanotechnology (Kluwer/Springer Publishers 2005, Chinese edition: Tsinghua University Press 2006, Russian edition: Springer Publishers 2011) and Focused Ion Beam System: Basics and Applications (Cambridge University Press, 2007). He has also authored 18 book chapters and more than 300 research publications in scientific journals, including Science, Nature, and many others. Yao is respected for many contributions to the field, including his pioneer work in developing the first 300 keV Environmental-cell Transmission Electron Microscope (1991) and developing a theoretical explanation for the superior imaging resolution of scanning helium-ion microscopy over the scanning electron microscopy (2008).

After searching for more than a decade, in cooperation with L. Bindi, P. J. Steinhardt, P. Lu, Yao obtained the first conclusive evidence of crystallographically forbidden icosahedral symmetry in a naturally occurring phase that led the discovery of natural quasicrystal [Science 324 (5932), 1306 (2009)]. This extraordinary breakthrough was cited in the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2011 press release. Furthermore, in recognition of their achievement, Yao’s co-discoverer, Bindi, was awarded the "2015 Presidente della Repubblica Prize", Italy's highest national scientific award. In 2015, Yao’s transmission electron microscopy results again provided conclusive evidence for discovering the second quasicrystal found in nature, a novel natural quasicrystal with decagonal symmetry [Scientific Reports 5 9111 (2015)]. The discovery of the natural quasicrystals opens a new chapter in the study of mineralogy, forever redefining the conventional classification of mineral forms established in the 19th century. This discovery also opens a new way of longitudinally studying metal alloy stability in pressure and temperature conditions not accessible in the laboratory. These discoveries came from studying meteorite samples that formed about 4.5 billion years ago and could answer basic questions about how materials were formed in our universe. In 2010, Yao’s work with A. Maloof et al. resulted in discovering a 650-million-year-old sponge-like organism. The shell-like fossils represent the earliest evidence of such animal forms in the current fossil record. The finding means animals appeared on Earth about 100 million years earlier than first thought, a significant contribution to the study of the development of Earth [Nature Geoscience 3 (9), 653 (2010)]. Together with D. Norris, Yao was invited to publish the opening paper in Nano Letters’ inaugural issue [Nano Letters 1 (1), 3 (2001)]. With P. Lu and P. Chaikin, Yao’s microscopy works also helped identify the earliest known use of diamond in 4000 BC [Archaeometry. 47, 1 (2005)]. In 2018, Yao organized the inaugural Princeton - Nature Conference, in partnership with the scientific publisher - Nature, entitled "Frontiers in Electron Microscopy for the Physical and Life Sciences", which is, for the first time, brings together scientists from both the physical and the life sciences to explore the new horizons of research now becoming available through electron microscopy.

Yao's primary directive is to teach in academia, industry, and beyond. He created and directed a teaching curriculum in materials characterization at Princeton. In addition to regular for-credit classes, Yao has also developed an outreach program through short courses and workshops in materials science, which are offered monthly to students from other universities and to industrial scientists, all free of charge. More than 4000 undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, and researchers have enjoyed their learning experience in Yao's classroom at Princeton. More than 120 teachers and researchers from Africa have studied electron microscopy with Professor Yao and later became the first group of electron microscopists in many African countries. He is a faculty advisor sought after by many students at Princeton. Yao’s students have won many national awards, including the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation Fellowship, Barry M. Goldwater National Scholarship, Fulbright Scholarship, Rhodes Scholarship, AFCEA National Grand Prize for Science, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship, Materials Research Society Student Award, Microbeam Analysis Society Distinguished Scholar Award, Microscopy Society of America Undergraduate Research Award (5 times), Lawrence Fellowship, Forbes' 30 Under 30, and French Innovators Under 35, etc. Professor Yao has mentored at New Jersey Liberty Science Center since 2001. He received the Outstanding Service Award in Preparing Science and Technology Leaders for the Future from the Siemens Foundation in 2011.

Having started his career as an industrial scientist, Yao has since devoted himself to building stronger bonds between academia, industry, and public society. He has personally educated over 800 industrial scientists from more than 120 companies by providing them with hands-on experience in materials characterization through his short course/workshop program and facilitating joint collaborative research. Yao’s efforts have helped lead these industrial partners to many innovations and new product developments. Companies that have benefited from such cooperative education and research include Bristol Myers Squibb, Colgate-Palmolive, Dow Chemical, DuPont, ExxonMobil, GE, Henkel, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, Merck, Sun Chemical, as well as many new startups. Yao established Princeton’s first monthly seminar series highlighting industrial and government leaders and scientists to the Princeton community. This program provides Princeton students a unique opportunity, which is not available in the regular academic curriculum, to gain valuable insight into industrial/government labs practice and better preparation for career development.

Yao is accomplished at establishing and leading extensive central facilities under financial constraints and developing them as education, research, and innovation engines. He has a strong record of his expertise at crossing disciplinary to facilitate research collaboration and has published hundreds of research articles coauthored with more than 60 faculty members at Princeton. He works in partnership with other academic and industrial scientists and gained international recognition in materials and structural analysis.

After receiving a Ph.D. in applied physics and electron microscopy from Arizona State University, where John M. Cowley was his dissertation advisor, Yao entered the industry, first working at the Shell Development Company, then at the ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. He joined Princeton University in 1993 to help build an interdisciplinary imaging and analysis program, which has since become a world-leading materials characterization center at Princeton.

PrincetonPrinceton University
Princeton, New Jersey
Zip: 08544
United States of America

IACImaging and Analysis Center
Andlinger Center, Room 033
86 Olden Street
Phone: 609-258-6394
Email: nyao@princeton.edu