The Nigerian Professor That Made Barack Obama’s Award

Deji Akinwande is a Nigerian-American Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with a courtesy affiliation in Materials Science, at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2016, he received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Barack Obama and is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Akinwande is renowned for his work in 2D materials, flexible and wearable nanoelectronics, nanotechnology, and STEM education.


Born in Washington, DC, Akinwande moved to Nigeria during his formative years and was raised in Ikeja. His father served as the financial controller of Guardian News, while his mother was employed at the Ministry of Education. Akinwande’s academic journey began at Federal Government College, Idoani, where he developed a passion for science and engineering.

Returning to the US in 1994, he enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College before transferring to Case Western Reserve University. Here, he studied electrical engineering and applied physics. During his master’s, he was at the forefront of designing near-field microwave tips for non-destructive imaging.

Stanford University welcomed him as a graduate student, where he delved into the electronic properties of carbon-based materials. During his PhD, he received distinctions as an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and was later chosen as a DARE (Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence) Fellow in 2008. After obtaining his doctorate in 2009, he became an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin in January 2010. His research attracted grants from esteemed agencies such as the NSF, ARO, DTRA, DARPA, AFOSR, and the Office of Naval Research. Notably, the latter emphasized high-frequency flexible 2D electronics.

His collaboration with Aixtron led to breakthroughs in the wafer-scale growth of graphene. This partnership resulted in the first 300 mm wafers using chemical vapor deposition for scalable growth of polycrystalline graphene. In 2011, alongside Prof. Philip Wong of Stanford University, he co-authored the inaugural textbook on Carbon Nanotube and Graphene Device Physics.

By 2013, Akinwande had become a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). His pioneering work in 2D graphene electronics culminated in 2015 with the unveiling of the first two-dimensional silicene transistor. This was accomplished in association with Alessandro Molle’s group at CNR, Italy, by evaporating silicon onto a silver crystal, using scanning tunnelling microscopy for real-time growth monitoring.

This groundbreaking research was recognized as one of 2015’s top science stories by Discover magazine. Moreover, his silicene work became the most cited publication of its age in Nature Nanotechnology. Advancing further, in 2017, he collaborated with Nanshu Lu’s group to produce the world’s thinnest and most transparent electronic tattoo sensors from graphene. Remarkably, these sensors, less than 500 nm thick and 85% transparent, could be affixed to the skin like temporary tattoos. They had the capability to measure various physiological parameters, from electrocardiography to hydration. By 2022, these graphene tattoos were transformed into wearable devices for continuous blood pressure monitoring, a feat published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Akinwande also introduced the first “atomristor” by exploring nonvolatile resistance switching in a 2D atomic sheet of molybdenum disulfide. These devices, as slender as 1.5 nm, have potential applications ranging from 5G and future 6G smartphones to AI circuits.

Editorially, Akinwande serves on the Board of Reviewing Editors for Science and holds editorial roles with ACS Nano, Nature Journal NPJ 2D Materials and Applications, and previously with IEEE Electron Devices Letters. He has delivered numerous plenary and keynote addresses, including a 2017 talk at the SPIE annual Optics & Photonics meeting.

In 2017, he was honored as an American Physical Society Fellow and in 2018 as a Fulbright Fellow. His plans for 2019 included a visit to Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. Some of his mentees, like Dr. Shideh Kabiri, Dr Li Tao, Dr. Seongin Hong, and Myungsoo Kim, have secured professorships at various global institutions.

For several years, Akinwande was nominated as a finalist for the ‘UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching’ Award, representing the pinnacle of teaching excellence in Texas.

Furthermore, he has presided over numerous major conferences and committees in nanoelectronics and nanotechnology, including the Gordon Research Conference on 2D materials, the Device Research Conference, and the International Electron Devices Meeting NDT Sub-committee.


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