UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jia Zhu, a doctorate student in engineering science and mechanics (ESM), recently received the Diefenderfer Graduate Fellowship from the Penn State College of Engineering.
The award was established by the late William E. Diefenderfer, a Penn State mechanical engineering alumnus, and his late wife, Francesca. Awards are given to innovative graduate students with a demonstrated ability to combine technical studies with opportunities to learn about business and entrepreneurship.
“Receiving this fellowship means a lot to me,” Zhu said. “It provides me with opportunities to connect with industry groups, with the goal of turning our researched device into a commercially viable product.”
Zhu investigates flexible medical devices intended to be worn on the body. In collaboration with his adviser, Huanyu "Larry" Cheng, assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics, Zhu has developed a novel fabrication method to create a low-cost, multifunctional device to monitor human health. Using both physical and chemical sensors, the device must be able to integrate different parameters depending on the patient’s needs. For example, a patient may need an accelerometer to detect a cough and a temperature sensor for monitoring fever. A device for a diabetic patient, on the other hand, would require a glucose sensor.
To make the stretchable medical devices convenient for daily and long-term use, Zhu is integrating wireless charging and data transmission for the device. Removing cables not only improves a wearer’s quality of life by allowing free movement, but also makes the product more practical for long-term use and to collect real-time data.
As Zhu continues to develop this concept, and another product, a stretchable bandage for wound monitoring called Flex Heal, he is also collaborating with industry. Zhu’s team won first prize of $5,000 in June at the Ben Franklin TechCelerator@StateCollege pitch event to help commercialize the Flex Heal. Next, Zhu plans to engage in a traineeship at Actuated Medical Inc., a medical equipment company based in Bellefonte.
Zhu applied for the fellowship with encouragement and support from Cheng.
“Jia is a highly motivated, intelligent and passionate individual who has shown continued passion in the interdisciplinary research topic of stretchable electronics for biomedical applications,” Cheng said. “He has shown himself to be capable of excelling within his studies and his research, and I’m confident in his pursuit of a mixed academic career path that supports technology development and its potential commercialization.”
Zhu is a 2019-20 College of Engineering Leighton Riess Graduate Fellow. He also received a 2016-17 and a 2017-18 Sabih and Güler Hayek Graduate Scholarship from ESM, as well as a 2018-19 Longenecker and Associates Scholarship in ESM.