Xiangkun (Elvis) Cao

Ph.D. @Cornell, Forbes 30U30

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I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Erickson Lab at the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell in Ithaca, NY. My major is Micro & Nanoscale Engineering, with minors in Energy & Sustainability, Infection & Immunity, and Entrepreneurship. My research at Cornell has two lines: (1) HI-Light (thesis), a glass waveguide based photoreactor technology for converting CO2 to fuels; (2) FeverPhone, a smartphone-based molecular diagnostics platform for differential diagnosis of six acute febrile illness.

Below are some snapshots for my background.

Academic activities: I was the PI for the $20K Scale Up and Prototyping Awards at Cornell, mentored an undergrad team that won the Bill Nye '77 Award in Undergrad Research, and was selected to participate in the NextGen Professors Program by Cornell Grad School. I received the Research Excellence Award from MKS Instruments, the Graduate Division Winner Award by the Sigma Xi, the Third Place Prize in Presentation by the AAAS, and won two Best Poster Awards both in the US and abroad. I have recently published work in Int. J. Hydrog. Energy, Anal. Chem., Fuel, Fuel Process. Technol., ISIJ Int., Malaria Journal, and Metall Mater Trans B, and am a referee for several journals, including J. Clean. Prod., Energy Convers. Manag, Int. J. Hydrog. Energy, IJEE, Metall Mater Trans B, etc.

Three 30 Under 30 lists: I was honored to be selected as one of the “30 Under 30” in Energy by Forbes Magazine (2019), was among “EarthX 30 Under 30: The Green Generation” by the American Conservation Coalition (2019), and the “AACYF Top 30 Under 30 Elites” in “Art, Culture, Science” by All America Chinese Youth Federation (2019).

Social impact: I was named as a Local Pathways Fellow by the UN SDSN–Youth (2018-2019), a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum (2019), and a BP Advancing Energy Scholar to attend the One Young World Summit in London (2019). I was named as one of the eleven Future Energy Leaders in the world featured by BP plc (2019), one of the five regional finalists for North America in the Young Champions of the Earth Competition by UN Environment (2019), and one of the six national finalists in the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize by the Lemelson Foundation (2019). I was named Honorable Mention for the Link Foundation Energy Fellowship by the Link Foundation (2019).

Public speaking: I was selected as an INK Fellow by the Ixoraa Knowledge Foundation to speak about solar fuels in Jaisalmer, India (2019), was an invited speaker at IoT, Data, and the New Last Mile by TTI/Vanguard in Berkeley, CA (2019), was featured by SPARK - Energy Re-Imagined to speak at the Carbon Capture Stream in London, UK (2020), and was selected to present at Global Grad Show, an exhibition of creativity and social innovation of the Dubai Design Week (2019). I received the First Place Award by the Atkinson Center (2018), the "Drafting the Future" Award by Cornell MAE (2018), the People’s Choice Award by Cornell Grad School (2017), and was invited to speak at Ithaca’s March for Science Event (2017).

Entrepreneurship: I am pursuing an entrepreneurship minor during my Ph.D. study, and am the current co-president of the Chinese Entrepreneur Association at Cornell. For the HI-Light project, I was participating in a team that won the $20K Grand Prize (1/1,150+ in the world) in the “Create the Future” Design Contest (2017). The industrial partner in the HI-Light effort, Dimensional Energy, has advanced into the final round (10 teams in the world) for the $20M NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE (2019).

Prior degrees: M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell (2019), M.Eng. (thesis) in Materials Engineering from McGill (2016) with joint training by the Nuclear Engineering Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2015-2016), a dual bachelor’s degree (B.Eng. in Energy & Power Engineering; B.A. in English Language & Literature) from the ‘Tsien Hsue-Shen’ Elite Class of Xi’an Jiaotong University (2013).

For more information on my research, click on “Publications.”

Curriculum Vitae: Short; Long (updated January 2020).


01/16/2020: Featured by WeMakeChange.org as a Global ChangeMaker.

01/07/2020: Featured in an article by UN SDSN Youth.

Year of 2019

12/09/2019: Honored to receive the MKS Instruments Research Excellence Awards to attend Photonics West 2020!

11/26/2019: Glad to be selected to join the Clinton Global Initiative University community.

11/13/2019: Featured in an article by the United Nations Environment Programme.

11/06/2019: Paper on seawater-assisted synthesis of MnCe/zeolite-13X accepted by Fuel.

10/23/2019: Named as one of the 11 Future Energy Leaders in the world by BP plc.

10/15/2019: Honored to be selected as one of the 21 INK Fellows around the globe by the Ixoraa Knowledge Foundation!

10/13/2019: Selected as one of the 26 participants to join the NextGen Professors Program by Cornell Grad School!

10/02/2019: Delighted to announce my undergrads: Tao and Tingwei receive Bill Nye '77 Award in Undergrad Research!

09/30/2019: Two abstracts accepted by SPIE OPTO in two sessions: Novel Optical Devices I and Photonic Devices as oral presentations!

09/18/2019: Delighted to announce I just passed the A exam at Cornell and became a Ph.D. candidate!

09/11/2019: Co-first authored paper on malaria differential detection accepted by the Malaria Journal.

09/10/2019: Three abstracts accepted by Nature Conferences on Solar Fuels as poster presentations!

08/08/2019: Selected to present at Global Grad Show (Top 1%) in Dubai Design Week.

07/15/2019: Selected as a BP Advancing Energy Scholar (30/2,500) to attend the One Young World 2019 Summit in London.

06/15/2019: Industrial partner for HI-Light featured in a video by Carbon X Prize.

06/03/2019: Named Honorable Mention (7 in the US) for Link Foundation Energy Fellowship.

05/31/2019: Featured in an interview article by Bruno Mirchevski.

05/29/2019: Featured in a profile article by American Conservation Coalition.

05/28/2019: Excited to join Global Shapers Ithaca Hub by World Economic Forum.

05/16/2019: Selected as a North America Finalist for Young Champions of the Earth by UN Environment.

04/02/2019: Presented at ACS Spring 2019 National Meeting in Orlando, FL (two orals + 1 poster).

04/01/2019: Honored to be featured in EarthX 30 Under 30: The Green Generation.

03/21/2019: Paper on differential detection of dengue and chikungunya viral infections accepted by Anal. Chem.

03/18/2019: Honored to be featured in AACYF 30 Under 30 – Class of 2019.

03/06/2019: Presented an invited talk at IoT, Data, and the New Last Mile in Berkeley, CA.

01/20/2019: Paper on elemental mercury removal over MnOx/bentonite accepted by Fuel Process. Technol.

01/14/2019: Featured in a profile article by Cornell University.

Year of 2018

12/13/2018: Selected as a National Finalist for the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

11/19/2018: Selected as a UN SDSN Youth's Local Pathways Fellow.

11/14/2018: Featured in a profile article by McGill University.

11/13/2018: Honored to be featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 in Energy – Class of 2019.

11/02/2018: Received Top Prize at Atkinson Center's Trustee Council Pitch and Poster Contest.

08/30/2018: The HI-Light project featured in an article by Forbes Magazine.

09/30/2018: Co-first authored paper on Branched multiphase TiO2 for water splitting accepted by Int. J. Hydrog. Energy.

08/13/2018: Received Third Place Award in “Our Microbes, Our Global Health” International Symposium Poster Contest.

05/21/2018: Selected as Finalist in Young Champions of the Earth in China by UN Environment.

03/22/2018: Paper on synergistic oxidation behavior of NO and Hg0 accepted by Fuel.

03/13/2018: Paper on micro-bubble formation using gas injection into ladle shroud accepted by Metall Mater Trans B.

02/21/2018: Received Third Place Award in ERN Conference Video Contest.

02/01/2018: The energy research at Cornell picked up by Hart Energy.

01/29/2018: Presented at Photonics West and BiOS Conferences in San Francisco, CA.

Year of 2017

10/19/2017: Presented at the 2nd Annual SPARK Talks at Cornell Library.

10/06/2017: Received $20K Grand Prize (1/1,150) in the "Create the Future" Design Contest.

09/18/2017: Presented at the New York Academy of Sciences.

09/12/2017: Received Best Poster Award at the ACLS International Summer School in Singapore.

09/07/2017: Paper on micro-bubble formation under non-wetting conditions accepted by ISIJ Int.

06/29/2017: Received the inaugural $20K Scale Up and Prototyping Awards from Cornell Engineering.

05/26/2017: Received Best Poster Award at 9th NYS Biotech Symposium, Syracuse, NY.

04/18/2017: Received Graduate Divison Winner Award in the Sigma Xi Student Research Showcase Competition.

03/29/2017: Received “People’s Choice” Award in Cornell’s 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition.


08/09/2016: Paper on microbubble swarms in a full-scale water model tundish accepted by Metall Mater Trans B.

03/11/2016: Paper on removal of inclusions using micro-bubble swarms accepted by ISIJ Int.

04/02/2015: Selected as Finalist in McGill's 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition.

07/03/2014: Received Graduate Excellence Fellowship Award from McGill Engineering.