Chen Takes NSF Post; Named One of World’s Most Impactful Researchers

Junhong Chen—who was named one of the world’s most impactful researchers in November—has been tapped to serve the National Science Foundation. A Distinguished Professor, Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering, Chen is now overseeing and coordinating the activities of the several Engineering Research Centers across the nation for the NSF. The post lasts up to two years, during which time he is taking a leave of absence from the university.

Chen made headline news when he led the successful development of water sensors that can continuously monitor and immediately detect trace amount of heavy metals and bacteria. The wafer-thin sensors—whose key ingredient is a graphene-based nanomaterial—stand to benefit anyone reliant on potentially contaminated water, including 13.2 million U.S. households that rely on private wells. Because they can be immersed long term in a liquid environment, they could even be integrated into water meters and purifiers between a water treatment plant and a home.

Chen is also developing a handheld device to be used for one-time testing of lead in tap water.

Throughout his career, Chen’s published research has reflected a wide range of interests, including carbon nanotubes and hybrid nanomaterials, nanostructured sensors with wide applications, and renewable energy and corona discharges.

Chen’s team has been working with manufacturers, including A.O. Smith Corporation, Badger Meter Inc., Baker Manufacturing Company LLC and the company he founded, NanoAffix Science LLC, to put the sensors into use. Industry partners have licensed the intellectual property through the UWM Research Foundation.

In Milwaukee, Chen has headed the Water Equipment and Policy Center, an NSF-supported industry-university cooperative research center. That center pools the knowledge of UWM and Marquette University researchers with the water-tech industries.

Chen’s work has been supported by the Water Equipment and Policy Center and the NSF Partnerships for Innovation: Accelerating Innovation Research Program, which helps translate discoveries from academic labs into new products and services.

You can contact Junhong Chen at: