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Ying Wang
October 19, 2023

Wang will use DOE career award to develop quantum materials to harvest WiFi energy

Written By: Jason Daley

Ying Wang, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy for a prestigious Early Career Research Program award.

Her proposal “Exploring Nonlinear Electrodynamics in Layered Topological Semimetals at Radio Frequencies,” could lead to new types of quantum devices capable of harvesting energy from WiFi or cellular signals.

Wang and her team are exploring a class of quantum materials called layered type-II Weyl semimetals that has strong interactions with radio frequency waves. Previous research conducted by Wang showed that some of these semimetals can produce a DC current when exposed to low-frequency AC current.

But Wang has seen signs that this effect could extend into the radio-frequency region of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes WiFi and cellular signals. In her project, Wang is developing the fundamental science behind such materials. She and her team will explore the semimetal at various thicknesses, mainly in the 5 to 10 nanometer range, looking for the microscopic mechanism that enables this effect in the radio frequency spectrum.

The team will focus on modeling, characterizing and understanding the fundamental relationships between the material and the radio frequency signals, as well as how they respond to strain and external stimuli.

The project will lay the groundwork for new types of radio frequency energy-harvesting devices. “WiFi is everywhere, but the majority just fades into our environment,” says Wang, “If we could develop a radio frequency harvester based on new types of quantum, or incredibly thin, materials, we could efficiently recycle that amount of energy into electricity.”

Wang, who established her lab at UW-Madison in 2020, says that it took most of the intervening time to complete the preliminary work for this project. But now, she’s ready to move forward. “I’m grateful to the Department of Energy for this award, recognizing the importance of our research and showing full confidence in our lab,” she says. “That really encourages us to move forward and do good science and good work.”

Wang is one of 93 awardees from 47 universities and 12 Department of Energy national laboratories to receive the award, which recognizes next-generation STEM leaders.

Top photo by Joel Hallberg