Dr. Donglei Fan: High Performance Nanomotors

FanProfessionalPicDr. Donglei Fan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin since 2010. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the Department of Intensive Instruction, an honor program for gifted youth, in Nanjing University (NJU) in 1999, master’s (2003) and doctorate (2007) degrees in Materials Science and Engineering from Johns Hopkins University (JHU). She also obtained another master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from JHU in 2005. Between 2007 and 2009, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at JHU.

In 2012, Prof. Fan received the prestigious National Science Foundation Career Award. Her work on bottom-up assembling of inorganic nanomotors was selected as the #3 of “10 discoveries that will shape the future in 2014,” by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Dr. Fan was also one of 60 US and Europe young engineers invited to attend the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) 2013 EU-US Frontier of Engineering Symposium in France. She was competitively selected to attend the National (NAS) Arab-American Frontiers of Science, Engineering, and Medicine symposium in 2014. In addition, she was featured by “Woman in Nanoscience,” an NSF supported scientific blog highlighting achievements of woman scientists in the US. In 2012 she was honored as a Recognized Mentor by the Siemens Foundation, a finalist of the Beckman Young Investigator Award (24 finalists nationwide), a finalist of 2015 SXSW Interactive Innovation Award, and nominated for the 2010 MIT Technology Review’s TR35 award, which recognizes the world’s top young innovators.

The Fan Research Group Website


NanomotorsDr. Fan’s work in the field of high-performance nanomotors focuses on the investigation of original mechanisms to realize bottom-up assembling, manufacturing, and actuation of NEMS devices (nanomotors) with high efficiency, truly nanoscale dimensions, reliable performance, and at a low cost. She received the NSF CAREER Award in 2012 for this very research. She investigates several types of rotary nanomachines, including a rotary NEMS made with nanowires as rotors and patterned nanomagnets as bearing. These nanomotors can start and stop the operation synchronously and rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise on demand. A rotational speed of 18,000 rpm has been demonstrated, and it is likely that even faster speeds are possible. These nanomotors are one of the smallest rotary devices that operate at fixed positions with all dimensions less than 1 µm. Moreover, recent results show they can rotate continuously for 80 hours over a total of 1.1 million cycles, which are also the most durable nanomotors of similar scales reported in the literature. By analytic modelling and understanding the nanoscale interactions in the system, she has also successfully designed the first microscale step-motors, which can be rotated and positioned at arbitrary angles on demand, essential for coupling with multiple nanomachines for complex functions. The nanomotors were demonstrated for controlled molecule release. Multiplex molecules can be released with tunable rates by the rotation speed.


A major research effort to control energy transfer in semiconductor quantum dots (QDs) for diverse applications ranging from solar energy harvesting to fluorescent displays and biological imaging is currently underway. Building on their achievements in advancing opto/plasmonic enhanced biosensing, Dr. Fan’s group have investigated the plasmonic enhancement of Fӧrster resonance energy transfer (FRET) rate between donor and acceptor QDs by innovative fabrication of arrays of plasmonic Au enhanced QDs sandwiched nanodisks on a wafer-scale with high rationality, dimension control, and reproducibility. They have experimentally demonstrated that the energy transfer rate between heterogeneous QDs can be significantly increased by improving the spectral overlap of the acceptor QD emission with the plasmonic resonance. The results suggest an important and viable mechanism for enhancing optical energy transfer at the nanoscale, relevant to biosensing and solar energy harvesting.