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Faculty member honored as 2018 Innovation Fellow

Sang M. Han, Ph.D. was recognized April 12 as the 2018 Innovation Fellow at the University of New Mexico STC Innovation Awards Dinner.

The award was created in 2010 to honor faculty who have worked hard to develop new technologies. According to Lisa Kuuttila, STC CEO and Chief Economic Development Office, it is based off of inventions, as well as the patents received, license agreements, new companies started and income generated from these inventions.

“It raises the visibility of inventors both inside and outside the UNM community and acts as a network of mentors and collaborators who will drive future inventive endeavors for UNM and STC,” Kuuttila said in a statement.

Han is a regent’s professor in the departments of chemical and biological engineering, as well as electrical and computer engineering at UNM. He has spent the last four years developing groundbreaking technologies in different areas of engineering, according to a booklet shared at the event.

The first of his creations aims to help solar panels last longer. Han came up with the idea to put multi-walled carbon nanotubes (which are like conductive needles) into the metal matrix, helping bridge cracks in the silver lines and allow the solar panels to produce electricity for a longer period of time.

The second technology is radiative cooling. Han explained that this technology is essentially a coating that rejects all sunlight.

“Imagine you’re under the cover of this coating, under intense summer solar radiation here in New Mexico,” Han said. “You would block all the sunlight, while you’re emitting in the mid IR range. Your body temperature will drop below the ambient. You’ll be cold, even in the summer.”

Han said that his radiative cooling technology stands apart from other approaches, because it is inexpensive, manufacturable and scalable, allowing everyone to benefit.

Eventually, Han said, it would be great to see this technology used in some of the remote areas of Africa that do not have air conditioning or very much electricity — they could cool down buildings using this technology at the cost about equivalent to commercial paint.

The third piece of technology Han has been working on involves nasogastric feeding tubes. Hospital patients in intensive care will usually require a feeding tube in order to get them nutrients and medication while they are unconcious. The tube goes up the patient’s nose and down through their throat and abdomen, into the small intestine.

According to Han, the problem with feeding tubes is that threading it down to the small intestine is quite difficult. It can get tangled or end up in the lungs or stomach, causing the patient to choke or aspirate.

Han said his invention helps solve this problem by placing a small, portable device over the patient which uses a sophisticated video tracking software to provide an image of the patient’s abdomen and where the feeding tube is going.

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This will create faster, safer and more accurate placement of feeding tubes, greatly helping critical hospital patients, he said.

Han graduated with a Ph.D. from The University of California, Santa Barbara and started working at UNM in 2000. Since then, he has disclosed 26 technologies and received 17 UNM-affiliated patents for his inventions. He has received many awards in his 18 years in Albuquerque, and has been awarded STC innovation awards every year since 2009, according to a booklet shared at the event.

Han said being named this year’s Innovation Fellow is a great honor for him. He is humbled by the fact that his work was chosen over the great work of many of his colleagues.

“I consider this award a motivation to do even more,” Han said.

He is currently working with local Albuquerque start-up companies Ozada Energy and Ozada Materials to get his technologies out of the lab and onto the market. Han said he wants to do more than just experiment — he wants his technologies to solve real problems in the world.

Catherine Stringam is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @cathey_stringam.

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