Five Questions for Dr. Kenneth Loh, New Director of CITRIS at UC Davis

Since his appointment in July 2015 as the new UC Davis campus director for CITRIS, Dr. Kenneth Loh has been actively recruiting students for CITRIS projects, promoting speakers, and increasing the number of cross-campus interactions among his colleagues. We recently sat down with Dr. Loh to discuss his perspectives and goals for CITRIS at UC Davis.

On October 18, 2015, Dr. Loh will give a public lecture about his work on “Distaster-proof Structures with Nano Materials” in the CITRIS Research Exchange seminar series. Reserve your seat or webcast access on Eventbrite.

1. What are your current research interests?

My research is centered on designing, improving, and implementing game-changing, multifunctional material systems for safeguarding our nation’s critical assets. The objective is to encode specific engineering functionalities within a single material architecture, such that they can be integrated with or even replace structural materials to bear loads while simultaneously performing sensing, actuation, damping, energy harvesting, and/or healing. In doing so, our aerospace, civil, naval, and mechanical structures become more resilient to natural or manmade events, changing operating environments, and expected or unexpected loads.

2. What excites you the most about CITRIS?

CITRIS addresses one of the most fundamental research questions that challenges many (if not all) disciplines, which is: how can we effectively measure data and then translate data into actionable information? This is one of the most basic yet challenging problem to solve, whether it’s related to disaster response, health and medicine, or robotics, among many others. In some cases, we may have a lot of quantified data, especially with the rapid growth of the Internet of Things; however, being able to use “right” data and digest them to extract information remains difficult.

3. What strengths does UC Davis contribute to the CITRIS research and innovation community?

The breadth of research being conducted by CITRIS principal investigators (PIs) at UC Davis is closely aligned with the four new CITRIS initiatives. For instance, we have numerous experts working on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or on large-scale problems such as addressing environmental resiliency. In addition, we provide uniqueness to the overall CITRIS mission with the UC Davis School of Medicine and our campus research initiatives in areas such as climate change, precision medicine, and smart agriculture.

4. What new trends in research and entrepreneurship are you seeing on the UC Davis campus?

While there are many new and ongoing activities for CITRIS at UC Davis, one of my current priorities is to use CITRIS as a bridge to establish and facilitate collaborations between experts from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. To achieve this goal, I’m working closely with Dr. Thomas Nesbitt, Faculty Director of the CITRIS Health Initiative who is based at the UC Davis School of Medicine. A workshop in fall 2015 will bring together engineers and doctors, as well as possibly social scientists and artists, so we can share our research interests and capabilities. We can also identify areas where joining forces would lead to outcomes greater than the sum of our individual parts. I also see UC Davis InnovationAccess playing a major role in helping PIs transfer new technologies from the laboratory bench-top to commercial adoption and implementation.

5. Two years from now, what accomplishments would you like to celebrate for CITRIS at UC Davis?

I have two very ambitious goals for CITRIS on the UC Davis campus. The first is to establish a platform (both literally and conceptually) that will enable PIs from very diverse disciplines to come together and form interdisciplinary teams that are better positioned to tackle complex research problems. The second goal is to establish an even stronger presence on campus so that CITRIS can not only serve campus researchers, but also generate activities and research outcomes that directly benefit our broader communities.

Dr. Loh, thank you for sharing your plans. Welcome aboard!