Age: 18Katy, TX
Project Title: A Novel and Feasible Method to Detect and Prevent the Ambient Degradation of Two-Dimensional MoS2 Structures
In my research I have developed a new protocol to prevent the ambient degradation of MoS2 monolayers (a single layer of molybdenum disulfide), as these monolayers have remarkable semiconducting and optical properties, in addition to possessing superior strength, flexibility, and relative stability. Those materials promise new applications in electronics and optoelectronics, but their long-term instability in air has been a large obstacle in these applications. My research addresses this problem by using a novel degradation acceleration method and has led me to propose a mechanism that accounts for the water-based progression of degradation in monolayer MoS2. I then successfully applied my model to propose and experimentally verify promising methods for readily preventing degradation, and for thereby facilitating the development of air-stable MoS2 electronics and optoelectronics that stand to make such current technologies as computers, solar panels, and medical X-ray machines faster, stronger, more flexible, and more efficient.
My name is Kevin Yao, and I am a graduating senior from the Texas Academy of Math and Science. Over the past two years, I have come to love research: it is my playground and podium. I get to tinker with and inspect the phenomena and mechanisms of our mysterious natural world, while at the same time achieving my desire to instill positive and meaningful change through innovative solutions. It is a great honor to be named a Davidson fellow. I am dedicated to pursuing a lifetime of questioning and research, and to be recognized confirms that my efforts are on the right track towards making the world a better place.
I had always been interested in physics since I was young, watching YouTube videos of space and particles, but I think what really inspired me into action was the destruction of my hometown by Hurricane Harvey. I was forced to realize that grades and test scores alone could do nothing to solve eminent problems like climate change, to help the people who had their homes destroyed, who had to be displaced, and whose possessions have become rotting carpet, drywall, and insulation. I desperately wanted to help out, to make a meaningful impact, and thus decided to move schools to the Texas Academy of Math and Science where I could spend my time doing research. Specifically, I wanted to apply my interest in physics and work in a laboratory where I could research the fundamental physical properties of next-generation materials and their applications in problems like climate change. Thus, I joined the Nanomaterials Fabrication and Characterization Laboratory led by Dr. Jose Perez. This group focused on researching 2-dimensional (2D) materials, a class of materials still early in development that could potentially yield better electronics and photonics (including solar panels). Collaborating with professors and graduate students across UNT, I made advances in studying their degradation, which is a major barrier in the real-world use of these materials. In addition, I proposed and experimentally verified three new and efficient methods of preventing their degradation, which could have applications in facilitating the industrial production of 2D material devices that could potentially revolutionize electronics.
I am extremely grateful to have worked under the guidance and support of my two mentors: Mr. Femi-Oyetoro, a graduate student, and Dr. Perez, my physics professor. One of the major obstacles we faced during the data collection phase was the lack of equipment and facilities in our lab. Specifically, we had wanted to use Raman spectroscopy and x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) to probe the molecular vibrations and chemical composition of our samples. However, neither of these machines were immediately accessible by our lab. Thus, I looked online for other researchers in the same area that had access to this equipment, and I was able to connect with a graduate student at my university and at a nearby university. This initiative resulted in collaborations between two other research groups, and with their help we were able to collect the data we needed.
My project proposes a novel mechanism to explain the progression of degradation of MoS2. This discovery addresses deficiencies in the current understanding of degradation in the field. In addition, my project introduces novel storage techniques that keeps MoS2 from degrading in air, which implicates a solution to a major challenge in my field. Previous papers have only been successful in preventing MoS2 from degrading while in vacuum, or by using extremely time-consuming methods such as encapsulation to protect the sample from oxidation. However, there have been no previous reports of an accessible method to prevent MoS2 degradation in air, which my project addresses. This discovery stands to facilitate the development of MoS2 electronics and optoelectronics, which can optimize current computers, wearable electronics, and solar panels. In the future, we may all be connected by mobile devices made of MoS2 or other 2D semiconducting materials.
I attended public school at Obra D. Tompkins High School for 9th and 10th grade and transferred to the Texas Academy of Math and Science (TAMS) to finish my 11th and 12th grade years. TAMS was a special experience: the students live on campus at the University of North Texas (UNT) and take classes there like college students. I was able to conduct research with Dr. Perez, a physics professor. I am planning on attending school at Texas A & M University in the fall, and I hope to major in electrical engineering.
When I first started researching with Dr. Perez, I shadowed my graduate student, Mr. Femi-Oyetoro, and was able to publish two papers as the second author. I then embarked on my own projects and was able to publish two more papers as the primary author. I am continuing to conduct research with them and have more projects planned. I placed 2nd in the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium after placing first in my category in physics and third overall at the Texas Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. I am also honored to have received the Goldwater Scholarship. I also enjoy participating in physics competitions: our team was a finalist in the International Beamline for Schools Competition and won honorable mention in the Princeton University Physics Competition. I am also passionate about tutoring: I have led the physics tutoring club at my school and co-led the research organization. I often volunteer to tutor my peers and demonstrate science experiments to elementary schoolers. Outside of academia, I love art, music, and sports. I played piano and violin for over 5 years, and basketball since I was 10 years old. Saturday nights watching James Harden shoot free throws at a friend's house were common luxuries. I am also passionate about weightlifting and bodybuilding. More recently, I started to dabble in dance--specifically K-pop and hip hop--and I love it: with my group, we even performed at student led concerts at my school. My career plans are to continue conducting independent research in the field of nanotechnology, such as 2D materials, and engineer novel devices to address vacancies in current technologies. Moreover, I hope to develop and validate those technologies for practical use, like in clean energy or medicine, through startups or medical practice as a physician.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years, I see myself either doing research as a graduate student and teaching courses in the field of physics, leading teams in R&D to develop solutions to imminent global issues, or maybe in medical school/residency working towards a M.D. It's very difficult to choose!
If you could have dinner with the five most interesting people in the world, living or dead, who would they be?
I'd probably dine with Mikey Chen (from Strictly Dumpling), Richard Feynman, James Corden, Alexander Hamilton (and Lin-Manuel Miranda), and BTS
In the News
KATY TEEN AWARDED $10,000 FOR DEVELOPMENT TO IMPROVE STABILITY OF NEXT-GENERATION MATERIALS
Kevin Yao to be Named a 2020 Davidson Fellow Scholarship Winner
Katy, Texas – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2020 scholarship winners. Among the honorees is 18-year-old Kevin Yao of Katy. Yao won a $10,000 scholarship for his project, A Novel and Feasible Method to Detect and Prevent the Ambient Degradation of Two-Dimensional MoS2 Structures. He is one of only 20 students across the country to be recognized as a scholarship winner.
“It is a great honor to be named a Davidson Fellow,” said Yao. “I am dedicated to pursuing a lifetime of questioning and research, and to be recognized confirms that my efforts are on the right track towards making the world a better place.”
For his project, Yao studied the fundamental physical properties of next-generation materials and developed a new protocol to prevent the ambient degradation of MoS2 monolayers (a single layer of molybdenum disulfide). These monolayers have remarkable semiconducting and optical properties, in addition to possessing superior strength, flexibility, and relative stability. Those materials promise new applications in electronics and optoelectronics, but their long-term instability in air has been a large obstacle in these applications.
Yao will be attending Texas A&M University in the fall where he will be studying electrical engineering.
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The following disclosure is provided pursuant to Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 598.1305:The Davidson Institute for Talent Development is a Nevada non-profit corporation which is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt private operating foundation. We are dedicated to supporting the intellectual and social development of profoundly gifted students age 18 and under through a variety of programs. Contributions are tax deductible.
Profoundly gifted students are those who score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ and achievement tests. Read more about this population in this article.