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Yu receives NSF CAREER award to support research in active polymers

Kai Yu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at CU Denver, has received the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the foundation’s most prestigious honor for junior faculty members.

Assistant Professor Kai Yu

The award recognizes early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. It supports activities to build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

The CAREER award, titled “Mechanics of Active Polymers with Dynamic Molecular Bonding,” supports research to unravel the working mechanisms of innovative active polymers that mimic functions of biological muscles through dynamic covalent bonding, including protection, actuation, reprogramming, self-healing, and recycling to enable sustainability. Yu’s work will enable the design, manufacturing, and applications of active polymer-based functional structures through both computational simulation and experiments.

“The widespread applications of these exciting materials will bring man-made machines closer to the natural capabilities of humans, while greatly extending their applications in biomedical devices, tissue replacements, soft robotics, and protective equipment,” explained Yu.

Yu’s educational plan contributes significantly to the CU Denver goals of student success as Colorado’s most diverse research institution. His educational activities will innovatively enhance student learning of mechanics and materials concepts and prepare them with critical skills to meet tomorrow’s societal challenges. Yu will partner with the CU Denver Comcast Media and Technology Center to create augmented reality mobile apps for instruction, which will allow students to dynamically visualize and interact with theoretical simulations of stress, strain, and deformation in solids and structures. Yu will also develop programming focused on 4D printing with polymers to engage and inspire minority high school students.

Yu obtained his PhD degree in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2015 and joined CU Denver in 2016. His research focuses on mechanical and physical behavior of active polymers, including reprocessible and recyclable plastics, liquid crystal elastomers, and shape-changing polymers. His work facilitates applications of these advanced materials into advanced manufacturing technologies (e.g., 3D and 4D printing and chemical recycling).

With Yu’s CAREER award, more than 25 percent of tenure-line faculty in the College of Engineering, Design and Computing have received this prestigious NSF award; when including early national career awards from other agencies like NIH, that number exceeds 33 percent.

For more details about Dr. Yu’s CAREER award, please refer to

CU Denver Engineering, Design and Computing View All

At the CU Denver College of Engineering, Design and Computing, we focus on providing our students with a comprehensive engineering education at the undergraduate, graduate and professional level. Faculty conduct research that spans our five disciplines of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, bioengineering, and computer science and engineering. The college collaborates with industry from around the state; our laboratories and research opportunities give students the hands-on experience they need to excel in the professional world.

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