Focus on Faculty - Leidong Mao

Focus on Faculty – Leidong Mao

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Leidong Mao, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, creates opportunities for students to conduct cutting-edge nanotechnology research.

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

I received my Bachelor of Science degree from Fudan University in China and my Ph.D. degree from Yale University. I am currently an associate professor in the College of Engineering. My day-to-day job includes running a research group to develop microsystems for biomedical applications, developing and teaching courses on computer systems engineering and nanotechnology, and leading a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program in the College of Engineering.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

UGA Engineering was kind enough to offer me a faculty position in 2008 after I earned my doctoral degree. I came to UGA because I felt this was a great place to start my career. There were a lot of excellent colleagues in the college and at other departments with whom I could work with. The college was also very supportive of junior faculty like myself. Plus, Athens is a great place to live.

What are your favorite courses and why?

I love teaching courses that have a lab component. This is where you can get students interested in doing research and pursuing an academic career later on. One of my favorite courses is “Fundamentals and Applications of Nanotechnology.” We first teach the students about the basics of nanoscience, and then they rotate between research laboratories to get hands-on experience in nanotechnology and its applications.

What interests you about your field?

I am working in a field where we develop very small devices for biological and biomedical applications. We call these devices “labs-on-a-chip.” With them you can solve biomedical problems—cancer diagnostics, for example—in a much faster, more portable and cheaper way. Our research can be truly translational; it could have a significant impact on early cancer diagnostics and screening.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

Some of the highlights of my career include a Faculty Early Career Award from the National Science Foundation in 2012, a Young Scientist Award from the International Magnetic Fluids Society in 2013 and the establishment of a Research Experience for Undergraduates site program in the College of Engineering in 2014.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

A group of faculty including myself has been interested in disseminating our research results on nanotechnology into undergraduate classrooms. We have done so by creating the “Fundamentals and Applications of Nanotechnology” course in the College of Engineering. I think it is a great opportunity for the students who enroll in this class, because they get to do the cutting-edge nanotechnology research as an undergraduate.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

I hope the students in my classroom gain hands-on experiences by doing projects and building stuff. I hope some of them are interested in this creative and inventive career path and consider graduate school later on, especially at the UGA College of Engineering.

Describe your ideal student.

I like the students who are motivated and constantly asking questions. By asking the right question, they will likely start something new. By staying motivated, they will likely reach the answers in the end.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…

The Ramsey Student Center is a great place to relax, and I love playing badminton there. My wife and I have been to some very exciting football games at Sanford Stadium.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…

… enjoy the casual dining places in the Five Points area.

Community/civic involvement includes….

… getting middle school and high school students and teachers into my lab to do fun projects in the summer.

Favorite book/movie (and why)?

I have a lot of favorite movies. For example, there are the classic ones by Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune—“High and Low,” “Seven Samurai” and “Yojimbo.” I also love John Wayne Westerns—“The Searchers,” “Rio Bravo” and “True Grit.”

Proudest moment at UGA?

My first Ph.D. student successfully defended his dissertation last December. This was one of the proudest moments for me at UGA.

Originally published on Sept. 1, 2014