University of Texas at Austin


Lianghao Cao Receives 2023 Outstanding Dissertation Award

By Rebecca Riley

Published May 23, 2023

Lianghao Cao with Oden Institute Director Karen Willcox

Lianghao Cao has been honored with the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences Outstanding Dissertation Award for 2023. Lianghao's work on self-directed assembly highlights the remarkable potential of this field in mass-producing nano-devices and materials.

Self-directed assembly methods are revolutionizing the accurate and efficient production of nano-structures, enabling the creation of intricate and highly functional devices and materials. By precisely controlling the assembly of nano-particles, directed assembly techniques allow for the development of even the most complex structures. 

A specific subset of directed assembly, known as directed self-assembly, employs block co-polymer morphology to create patterns of lines, spaces, and holes, offering enhanced control over feature shapes. This process leverages surface interactions and polymer thermodynamics to finalize the formation of the desired pattern shapes.

This dissertation is really a journey through the entire process of modeling directed self-assembly

— Lianghao Cao

"This dissertation is really a journey through the entire process of modeling directed self-assembly," shared Cao. “It's a long journey, but it's the foundation for doing something great in terms of modeling these phenomena."

Cao's journey from a background in engineering mechanics at the University of Illinois to the Oden Institute at The University of Texas at Austin has shaped his approach to research. "I was always attracted to the theoretical side of things," He explained. “The Oden Institute offered a solid computational mechanics program, providing rigorous mathematical training that not many departments require. This training was reflected in my thesis, particularly in the rigorous derivation of the model presented in the second chapter."

Reflecting on his achievement, Cao emphasized the importance of collaboration, acknowledging his advisors andcollaborators. "When I got this award, the first thing that came to my mind was that my collaborators should receive the same recognition," he said. "Most of the chapters in my thesis are collaborative works, and I wouldn't have been able to accomplish this without their contributions. This award is not just for me, but also for them."

Now that his dissertation is behind him, Lianghao has begun work on a scientific machine learning project and is looking forward to his second postdoc at Caltech

“If I weren’t at the Oden Institute, I wouldn't have learned so much about science and mathematics as an engineer,” said Cao. “It is a very vibrant and interdisciplinary environment for discussions and collaborations. I really can't say enough.”

Lianghao Cao was advised by Oden Institute Faculty members Tinsley Oden and Omar Ghattas and collaborated with former MIT PhD student Ricardo Baptista, former Oden Institute postdoctoral fellow Daniil Bochkov, former Oden Institute PhD student Joshua Chen, and MIT PhD student Fengyi Li.