Nan Yao is the director of PRISM Imaging and Analysis Center at Princeton University, where he teaches courses in materials science and engineering in the undergraduate and Ph.D. programs. After receiving a Ph.D. in applied physics and electron microscopy from Arizona State University, he entered industry, first working at the Shell Development Company, then at the Exxon Research and Engineering Company. He joined Princeton University in 1993 to help build a multidisciplinary imaging and analysis program, which has now become one of the preeminent imaging and analysis centers in the nation. In 2003, Yao accepted a continuing appointment as a Senior Research Scholar (rank of full professor) at Princeton University.
A fellow of the Microscopy Society of America, Nan Yao’s research has been focused on utilizing advanced imaging, diffraction, spectroscopy and manipulation techniques, in tandem with molecular dynamic 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 entitled Handbook of Microscopy for Nanotechnology (Springer/Kluwer Publishers, 2005, Tsinghua University Press, 2006, Russian language edition, Springer, 2011) and Focused Ion Beam System: Basics and Applications (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 12 book chapters, and about 200 research papers in journals such as Nature, Science and Physical Review Letters. Yao also collaborates with scholars in multidisciplinary research. Together with D. Norris, he published the Nano Letters’ opening paper in its first issue in 2001. As a co-discoverer (with L. Bindi, P. J. Steinhardt and P. Lu) of the first natural quasicrystal after a decade-long search, his work was mentioned in 2011 Chemistry Nobel press release. Working with A. Maloof, et al, they made a discovery of 650 million-year-old sponge-like creatures in 2010. The shelly fossils represent the earliest evidence of animal body forms in the current fossil record, predating other evidence by at least 70 million years. These findings push back the clock on the scientific world's thinking regarding when animal life appeared on Earth. Yao serves on the Editorial Board for eight professional journals and is on the research proposal advisory committee for NSF, DOE, NASA, NIH, and two US National Labs (Oak Ridge and Brookhaven). Yao has chaired or co-chaired eight international symposia and delivered over thirty invited lectures in recent years. He was a keynote speaker in the US R&D Magazine’s Research Lab Expo Conference in 2005.
Nan Yao is a three-time recipient of Excellence in Teaching Award from Princeton Engineering Council (2007-2009) and has been twice named to the Princeton Engineering Commendation List for Outstanding Teaching (2010-2011). In addition to the regular for-credit classes, Nan Yao has also been involved in the outreach program by conducting a series of short courses and workshops in the field of microscopy characterization of materials. More than three thousand undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and industrial scientists from over thirty universities and sixty industrial companies have enjoyed their learning experience in Nan Yao's classroom at Princeton. He received the Outstanding Service Award in Preparing Science and Technology Leaders for the Future from Siemens Foundation in 2011. His research undergraduate students have won many national awards including Fannie and John Hertz Foundation Fellowship, Barry M. Goldwater National Scholarship, Fulbright Scholarship, Harvey Fellowship, LeRoy Apker Award, AFCEA National Grand Prize for Science, National Science Foundation Fellowship, National Defense Science and Engineering Fellowship, Materials Research Society Student Award, Microbeam Analysis Society Distinguished Scholar Award and Microscopy Society of America Undergraduate Research Award (5 times).