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C.T. Lin: Invention man

March 26, 2012
Chhiu-Tsu “C.T.” Lin

Chhiu-Tsu “C.T.” Lin

Remember, you heard it here first: “the molecular fan.” It might just become one of the key features of tomorrow’s technology.

The molecular fan, which aims to keep hot technology cool, is one of the latest innovations from the laboratory of NIU Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Chhiu-Tsu Lin, or simply “C.T.,” as he’s known to students and colleagues.

Lin is among NIU’s most decorated professors.

With his latest accolade – the Board of Trustees Professorship – he has won all of the university’s top awards, including the Presidential Research Professorship, Presidential Teaching Professorship and Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching award.

Lin has written 160 scientific papers, attracted more than $3 million in research funding and been awarded numerous distinguished fellowships and invited lectures, including to universities in Singapore, Taiwan and Brazil.

NIU’s invention man holds nine U.S. and three international patents.

“Professor Lin’s research program has obtained significant scientific results, developed practical applications and provided high quality training for students,” says Russell Lipeles, a senior scientist with The Aerospace Corporation in California. “His work has global reach.”

Lin’s research concentrates on environmentally friendly chemistry, materials processing at the nanoscale and the development of optical sensors through laser technology. It’s basic research, but always with practical applications in mind.

Lin’s invention of an environmentally friendly coating technology for metals resulted in the creation of ChemNova Technologies, Inc., one of the university’s first spin-off companies. ChemNova is working to market coatings that protect against corrosion and eliminate the health, safety and waste-disposal concerns of standard metals-coating technology. The innovation led to a Governor’s Pollution Prevention Award in 2000.

More recently, Lin developed the molecular fan, which is also a type of coating.

Electronic devices are becoming increasingly smaller – so small that consumers someday might even wear iPad-type devices, just as people wear wristwatches today. But as devices get smaller, a problem arises: Intense heat is generated from inside the electronic parts. Typical cooling techniques, such as the use of a fan, become impractical.

Lin’s new coating, however, has a special property. Molecular vibrations act as trillions of tiny fans that efficiently dissipate heat by emitting infrared radiation to the surrounding air. Lin says the innovation is drawing considerable interest from companies, including overseas.

Lin himself is a native of Taiwan. He earned his Ph.D. at UCLA, where he received the Bronze Medallion for the top dissertation in the physical sciences. He taught in Taiwan, Singapore and Brazil before coming to NIU in 1985.

The imaginative approaches that Lin brings to the laboratory are also evident in his classrooms, where real-world examples help students connect chemistry to everyday applications.

“C.T. is one of our best classroom teachers at all levels,” says Jon Carnahan, chemistry and biochemistry chair. “His teaching quality, as judged by student evaluations, is always among the highest in the department.”

Lin often provides individualized instruction in basic chemistry and the art of scientific research. Over his 38-year career, he has mentored seven Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) students and 10 NIU freshmen, and he has supervised 45 undergraduate researchers, 21 Ph.D. dissertations, 20 master’s degree theses and 11 postdoctoral associates and visiting research scientists.

He takes the most pride in his former students’ success. Many have gone on to become researchers, doctors, professors, government officials, CEOs, company founders and even a university president.

“The Chinese have an old saying,” Lin says. “ ‘If your student is no better than you, then you are not a good teacher.’ ”