There’s a lot of research that can be done in half a century, and the University of Delaware’s Tsu-Wei Chou has wasted no time doing just that.
During his 53-year career, which makes him the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s longest-serving faculty member, Chou has attracted numerous accolades and awards for his groundbreaking work with composite materials. Now he’s earned one of the highest honors awarded by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), by being named an Honorary Member for a lifetime of service.
UD President Dennis Assanis, an ASME Fellow in 2008, was among several scholars who nominated Chou for the honor. “The unique combination of his expertise in materials engineering and applied mechanics enabled Prof. Chou to adapt to the changing needs of composites research, from structural to functional, and to understand their performance at or across all length scales,” Assanis wrote in his nomination letter. “Dr. Chou is indeed one of the most accomplished composites researchers in the world.”
The society, of which Chou has been a member since 1987 and a named Fellow since 1998, awarded Chou with Honorary Membership for “pioneering and seminal research in functional composite materials for energy storage, electromagnetic wave interference shielding, and 4D-printing, as well as contributions to mechanical engineering education, mentoring, and sustained service to the international composite community.” Honorary memberships have been awarded since ASME was founded in 1880.
It’s work he’s been doing for the past two decades as his research focuses on nanomaterials, most specifically carbon nanotubes. These very, very tiny materials — measured on a nanoscale (so think, like, one-1,000th of one strand of hair) — have excellent physical and mechanical properties that make them strong, stiff and capable of conducting electricity. However, they’re too tiny to work with individually. But strung together in long fibers, they create groundbreaking and flexible materials capable of storing energy.
“I feel lucky, very happy, that I have accomplished something in my career,” said Chou, Unidel Pierre S. du Pont Chair of Engineering and co-founder of the prestigious Center for Composite Materials (CCM). “I’ve been working on these areas very hard and very actively.”
Chou and his visiting scholars in the College of Engineering were the first to develop a so-called flexible, wire-shape supercapacitor from the fibers made with billions of carbon nanotubes. An energy storage device of this design can be wearable and stretchable.
“Tsu-Wei’s legacy, built over decades, has impacted countless students and colleagues who are now thriving as researchers, teachers, mentors and industry leaders themselves,” said Levi Thompson, dean of the College of Engineering. “We all aspire to have such a long-lasting and far-reaching impact, and Tsu-Wei has managed to do so with character and principles that are unmatched. This recognition is well-deserved, and I’m honored to call Tsu-Wei a colleague and friend. He will continue to be an inspiration.”
Some of Chou’s most recent research work has also revolved around electromagnetic wave interference shielding, which demonstrates the potential of nanocarbon materials for electromagnetic wave absorption and the protection of portable and wireless devices.
As for the 4-D printing technology he’s been working on that in part led to this most recent award, that’s the combination of two existing technologies meshed together: 3D printing and materials that respond to stimuli, such as shape-memory polymers. Shape memory materials can start in one form, become deformed in some way, and then, when exposed to certain influences such as heat or electricity, are capable of going back to their original form. Chou and his colleagues have demonstrated the tremendous potential in the development of remotely and sequentially controlled smart devices based on 4D-printed carbon nanotube/shape-memory polymer composites.
“Tsu-Wei’s research accomplishments are legendary,” said Ajay Prasad, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “He is a scholar of the highest order, with significant contributions in materials science, applied mechanics, fiber composites and nanocomposites. I have admired and respected Tsu-Wei my entire time at UD.”
Chou has previously earned ASME’s Charles Russ Richards Memorial Award in 1996, the Worcester Reed Warner Medal in 2002 and the Nadai Medal in 2013.
Beyond Chou’s decades of research accomplishments — which include publishing 397 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, which have been cited over 47,000 times, as well as three books — he said some of the most important moments of his career have occurred while working with his students.
Over the years, he has mentored and collaborated with more than 130 graduate students, research associates, visiting professors and visiting scholars.
“Seeing their success in professional career development has been the most rewarding and delightful experience of my 53 years of service at the University of Delaware,” Chou said.
Chou was born in Shanghai and grew up in Taiwan, earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the National Taiwan University in 1963 followed by a master’s in materials science from Northwestern University in 1966 and a doctorate in materials science from Stanford University in 1969. He joined the UD faculty shortly after, and celebrated his 50th anniversary with the College of Engineering in 2019. That year, the College of Engineering announced two new awards in his honor: The annual Tsu-Wei and Mei-Sheng Lo Chou Best Dissertation Award in Mechanical Engineering, named for Chou and his wife, honoring the best research work by a mechanical engineering graduate student and the annual Tsu-Wei Chou Composites Science and Innovation Award granted annually to a student from CCM.
He is a world-renowned leader in the areas of materials science, applied mechanics, fiber composite materials and nanocomposites who was named 34 out of the top 100 materials scientists of 2000-2010 by Times Higher Education.
In addition to ASME, Chou also is a member of ASM International, the American Society for Composites, the American Ceramic Society, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Mineral, Metals and Materials Society.
He also has received the Albert Sauveur Achievement Award from ASM International, the Distinguished Research Award and the ASC/DEStech Award in Composites of the American Society for Composites. In 2001, Chou was honored with the Francis Alison Award, the highest honor bestowed on a faculty member by the University of Delaware.
Chou retired from UD at the end of August 2022 and has been named professor emeritus. He said he looks forward to continuing in this new capacity as a member of the UD community.