Northwestern researchers acknowledged as most frequently cited in the world

Anushuya Thapa, Reporter

Northwestern faculty members and researchers are among the most cited academics in the world, according to an annual list released by the Web of Science Group within Clarivate Analytics, a global data firm.

The 32 researchers include Weinberg Prof. Antonio Facchetti and McCormick Prof. Yonggang Huang, the Walter P. Murphy Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

Faccheti’s paper on electron-conducting polymers in “Nature,” a scientific research journal, was cited about 2,000 times. The many citations were a result of the fact that his research was unique in an academic field that had previously focused on positive-charge carrying materials, said Facchetti. His research on organic conductors enables the creation of lightweight electronic devices at lower, cheaper temperatures by directly printing the new material onto plastics.

Huang studies how “pop-up” techniques can 3D print silicon which cannot be fabricated in other ways. He said frequent citations show the usefulness of his research, though they come with no tangible recognition.

“(Citation) is just like your work is being recognized and used by others,” Huang said. “And you feel like what you’re doing is something useful to other people.”

Applying his research, Facchetti has worked with investors to create Flexterra, a company based on providing and sometimes recreating his patented materials to suit the needs of clients like Samsung and Foxconn.

Facchetti said his work as the Chief Technology Officer of Flexterra is rewarding. He said he works on scaling up production of newly created materials and ensuring his products comply with industry standards.

“It would not have been possible if my company were far away from (NU),” said Facchetti, who also supervises graduate and postdoctoral students.

However, Huang is uninvolved in product creation, he said, likening his research to a 3D printer that others use to facilitate their own creativity.

“I am the researcher that creates the technology, the message so other people can use their own imagination,” Huang said.

Huang, who was awarded the Cole-Higgins Award for Teaching at the University in 2016, said he was proud of his accomplishments in the classroom as well. He said the most important thing while teaching is to “always try to put (himself) in the student’s shoes” and focus on the way he presents class material as opposed to just the content.

Both Huang and Facchetti said they wanted to be researchers from an early age. Facchetti said that a game called “Little Chemist” captured his mind when he was a boy. The game involved using salt and burners to create different solutions.

“I wanted to be a chemist,” Facchetti said. “We were extremely poor… finally, I think when I was 7 or 8 years old, my mom bought it for me for Christmas.”

Huang’s father taught at Tsinghua University where Huang grew up, and was the inspiration for Huang’s career. He said his parents, uncles and aunts were all professors of material science, and following in their footsteps was “only natural.” Though he spent a large portion of his life introduced as “professor Huang’s son,” the researcher said his dream is that someday his dad is introduced to others as “professor Huang’s father” instead.

Now, Huang enjoys spending time with his own sons, the younger of which recently graduated from Northwestern.

Huang recalled memories of walking with his younger son along the Lakefill and convincing him to study at Northwestern. He chuckled, remembering how he had offered his son his Mercedes-Benz if he agreed to stay.

“I don’t know whether that was a deciding factor,” Huang said, “but he did drive my Mercedes around campus during his freshman year.”

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