College of Science; Research

Physicist Rao named fellow of National Academy of Inventors


CLEMSON, South Carolina — Clemson University physicist Apparao Rao has been named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

Dr. Rao a featured presenter during Ted Talks event in Greenville.
In a 2018 TedX Greenville talk, Rao explained how his team used flaws in carbon nanomaterials to maximize energy capacity.

Rao, founding director of the Clemson Nanomaterials Institute and associate dean for discovery in the College of Science, leads research focused on understanding and exploiting the properties of nanomaterials, such as carbon nanotubes and graphene, with applications spanning as varied as green energy to health care.

Rao is the third Clemson faculty member to be elected to the NAI. John Ballato, a professor of materials science and engineering, was elected in 2015. Ken Marcus, University Professor of Chemistry, was elected in 2017. Rao joined Clemson in 2000. He is also the R. A. Bowen Professor of Physics and is also a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.

The NAI says fellow status “is the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.”

The 2018 NAI Fellows class are named inventors on nearly 4,000 issued U.S. patents. They will be inducted at the Space Center Houston in April at the Eighth Annual Meeting of the NAI.

“Dr. Rao represents the best of academic researchers. He is committed to educating and mentoring students, helping his faculty peers reach their potential and improving society by leading research that can be readily translated to commercial development,” said Cynthia Young, dean of the College of Science. “We are thrilled that the NAI saw fit to recognize Dr. Rao’s contributions as an inventor.”

In March 2017, Rao’s and his colleague Rama Podila invented the ultra-simple triboelectric nanogenerator, or U-TENG, a small device made of plastic and tape that generates electricity from motion and vibrations. When the two materials are brought together — through such actions as clapping hands or tapping feet — they generate voltage that is detected by a wired, external circuit. Electrical energy, by way of the circuit, is then stored in a capacitor or a battery until it’s needed.

Nine months later, in a paper published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials, the researchers reported that they had created a wireless TENG, called the W-TENG, which greatly expands the applications of the technology.

Director of the Clemson University Research Foundation Chris Gesswein and Vice-President for Research Tanju Karanfil championed Rao’s nomination. In nominating Rao, they said, “This is a well-deserved recognition for Rao for a lifetime body of work developing and commercializing innovations throughout his career.”

In this TedX Greenville talk, Rao explained how his team used flaws in carbon nanomaterials to maximize energy capacity.

In a recent Meet a Tiger profile, Rao talks about mentoring and his ability as a skinny graduate student to consumer a large pizza in one sitting.

And in a Behind the Research video, Rao described his father’s role in helping him become a world-class scientist.

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