2016 Breakthrough Star Guoan Wang

Academia is sometimes referred to as the Ivory Tower, with the implication that the intellectual activities there might be disconnected from the practical needs of the everyday world.

That is hardly the case with assistant professor of electrical engineering Guoan Wang, who brought plenty of real-world experience to the table when he arrived at the University of South Carolina in 2011. The first five years of his professional career were in industry, where he developed insight proving invaluable at a major research university.

“Having spent time at IBM before joining USC, Dr. Wang understands the workforce needs in advanced technology,” says electrical engineering faculty colleague MVS Chandrashekhar. And the commercial experience has only enhanced Wang’s success in the academic arena, where he has already garnered more than $1 million in grant funding since joining the faculty, including a prestigious NSF Early Career Development award.

Director of the Laboratory of Smart Microwave and RF Technologies that he founded on arrival at Carolina, Wang is focused on work at the intersection of two distinct fields: materials science and communications. “We are working to develop smart electronics,” Wang says, “which can be used to make smarter medical, sensing and wireless communications systems.”

The research has a host of practical applications. He has set up collaborations with industry leaders like General Electric, IBM and Medtronics. He has applied for 67 patents and had 30 issued so far. Twenty of those patents have been issued since he joined the Carolina faculty.

His research on how nanometer-thin films of ferromagnetic materials can be harnessed in new ways for better radio- and microwave-frequency communications is on the cutting edge and widely recognized.

“Rarely have I seen such enthusiasm and capability in a young assistant professor,” says professor Paul Huray. “He is already known as a leader in his profession.”

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