"Cornell’s experience was, in fact, part of a national trend which saw a shift in research funding patterns away from the lone wolf investigator model. That historical shift underpinned a broader move toward collaborative interdisciplinary science, which you will recognize in my past and which is what I believe led me here." Read more about Lynden Archer, Cornell Engineering Dean
Welcome Zhiting Tian
- New Faculty Year: 2018
Zhiting Tian has joined the faculty of Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering as the Eugene A. Leinroth Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow. Tian specializes in nanoscale thermal transport and energy conversion. She comes to Cornell after four years as an assistant professor at Virginia Tech.
“I am excited to be at Cornell,” says Tian. “Student quality is the key to implementing research ideas and students at Cornell are excellent. Also, being here gives me the chance to collaborate with world-class researchers from across the University.”
Tian grew up in southwestern China, where her parents were middle school teachers. “My parents believed that girls can do what boys can and they encouraged me to pursue higher education. They even brought me to visit top universities at the end of middle school and helped me set educational goals.”
Tian ended up attending a top university—Tsinghua University in Beijing—and earning her B.E. in engineering physics. While in Beijing, Tian received an offer for two years of support if she would come to Binghamton University and earn a masters in mechanical engineering. “It was such a good opportunity; I could not say no,” says Tian.
It was at Binghamton that Tian first studied molecular dynamics and heat transfer in condensed matter and started to look at nanoscale heat transfer. From Binghamton, Tian moved on to MIT, where she earned her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering working with Professor Gang Chen. “At MIT I started with modeling and moved into experimentation. Now my group conducts both modeling and experiments.” While earning her Ph.D., Tian also received the Graduate Women of Excellence Award and the Wunsch Foundation Silent Hoist and Crane Award for Academic Excellence.
After receiving her Ph.D., Tian became an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech in 2014. Tian was part of the Macromolecule Innovation Institute at Virginia Tech, where she worked with many chemists. “These interactions with chemists opened a new direction in my work,” says Tian. The “new direction” was soft materials. Her work would have significant application in organic solar cells, flexible electronics, and biomedical engineering.
“Studying nanoscale heat transfer in soft materials is incredibly challenging,” says Tian. “Despite the progress made in nanoscale thermal transport in hard matter, in soft matter it remains largely unexplored. The structural complexity and conformational variations pose some significant challenges on atomic modeling and experimental characterization.” Tian says the overarching goal of her research is to “advance the fundamental understanding of nanoscale heat transfer and energy conversion in hard, soft, and hybrid materials.”
Tian is teaching Introduction to Mechanical Engineering (ENGRI 1170) in the fall of 2018. “I like teaching—maybe because both of my parents were teachers,” says Tian. “Teaching is a way to impact the future. I also like having undergraduates in the lab—they sometimes come up with surprising and great ideas.”