Dr. Alan Wang
Alan Wang is the University’s first endowed chair hire through the Baylor Academic Challenge; will join Baylor from Oregon State in 2022
Baylor University announced over the summer the hiring of Alan X. Wang, Ph.D. as the inaugural holder of The Mearse Chair in Biological and Biomedical Engineering.
Wang, who currently serves as associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Oregon State University, brings a prolific record as a researcher and inventor to the newly endowed position with Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science. His expertise in photonic materials and devices research features applications for health care, communication, environmental protection, food safety and more, and bolsters Baylor’s research in materials science, one of the five signature academic initiatives of Illuminate, the University’s strategic plan.
“It’s an exciting opportunity to work at a Christian research university like Baylor, and to come to a place that values your research area as a priority,” Wang said. “As I talked to Baylor faculty, I was impressed by the commitment of the University and administration who emphasize and support that research vision. I feel that Baylor is on a rapid trajectory towards becoming an R1 research university, and I am looking forward to contributing my expertise and collaborating with other faculties at Baylor.”
Wang’s appointment – the first for an endowed chair position funded through the Foster Academic Challenge– marks a milestone in the University’s pursuit of R1 research recognition. The FAC is a unique dollar-for-dollar matching fund within Give Light, the University’s $1.1 billion philanthropic campaign. Endowed chairs were created to address significant societal challenges and recruit faculty in emerging areas of strength and focus at the University.
“It’s incredibly exciting to welcome Dr. Wang as the first hire through the Foster Academic Challenge,” Provost Nancy Brickhouse, Ph.D., said. “He is a top-flight scientist who has been highly productive. He will be core to our growing materials science efforts, and the passion he brings to his work and the success he has demonstrated are deeply impressive.”
Harnessing Light for Essential Applications
The field of photonics and opto-electronics has grown exponentially in recent decades and speaks both to Wang’s faith and desire to apply his research to help others.
“Light, in Genesis 1:3, is the first thing God created, so you know it is essential. Light has been studied for thousands of years but, with modern optics, the light covers much broader areas,” Wang said. “It can be used, for example, for communication, sending high-speed data across optical fibers or for health care in areas like endoscopy or biomarker detection.”
Wang’s interest in optical communication of light grew from his time as a student. After studying materials science as an undergraduate at Tsinghua University in China and earning a master’s degree from the Institute of Semiconductors at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wang pursued Ph.D. studies in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, graduating in 2006. He then joined Omega Optics Inc. in Austin as chief research scientist before beginning his academic career at Oregon State in 2011.
From his foundational studies, Wang’s scholarship has grown through the years based on “integrated photonics” – an approach that designs and fabricates multiple photonic devices on a chip using micro- and nano-fabrication techniques, similar to the well-known integrated electronic circuits. His research approach has sparked interdisciplinary discoveries that advance the field, and his work has drawn significant funding – more than $9 million from agencies like the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, the United States Department of Agriculture and NASA.
Among Wang’s breakthrough inventions is an electro-optic modulator described by Science Daily as “the world’s smallest electro-optic modulator.”
Electro-optic modulators convert electronic signals into optical signals. The device invented by Wang and his team is 10 times smaller and 100 times more energy efficient than previous devices and can lead to meaningful reductions in the amount of energy used to store and move data. He also holds patents for biosensors that uses photonic crystal materials for surface-enhanced Raman scattering to achieve preeminent sensitivity and cost-effectiveness. The device could enhance the detection of cardiovascular biomarkers, toxicants in food, water pollution or drug residues.
“My mission is to use the technology we have to solve existing problems, or to create the technology to overcome future challenges,” Wang said, “and I identify problems facing healthcare and energy as our biggest challenges.”
In addition to the record of productive scholarship Wang brings to the Mearse Chair at Baylor, colleagues at Oregon State said the leadership he displayed in complex interdisciplinary research is key to his success.
“Dr. Wang is a talented project leader, a very effective communicator, great mentor and collegiate colleague,” Chih-hung Chang, Ph.D., said. “I consider him to be a researcher with a strong capacity to generate innovative ideas, conduct high-quality research and to care for his students as a teacher. Most importantly, he holds a strong Christian faith that makes him a great fit for Baylor.”
Over the next year, Wang will collaborate with the University to bring his nationally recognized lab to Baylor. He will officially join the ECS faculty in 2022.
“We are excited about Dr. Alan Wang joining the Electrical and Computer Engineering department,” Dennis O’Neal, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, said. “Dr. Wang brings a wealth of industry and academic experience to Baylor with broad-ranging applications. He is an internationally known scholar and will help the University in achieving R1 status.”
Future hiring of endowed chairs
Endowed chairs are an important part of Baylor’s roadmap toward preeminence as a Christian research university. Recruitment is currently underway for additional endowed chair positions. Dr. Wang’s appointment, sets a high bar for future hires as the program attracts other elite faculty in the months ahead.
“Welcoming Dr. Wang communicates that our program is doing what it is intended to do,” Brickhouse said. “Talent attracts talent. When you hire at this level, it gets the attention of the scientific community, and we look forward to welcoming more top-flight researchers to Baylor.”