Xiangkun (Elvis) Cao

Ph.D. @Cornell, Forbes 30U30

Forbes | UNEP | INK | BP | OYW | LinkedIn | Twitter | Google Scholar


10/23/2019: Named a Future Energy Leader (11 in the world) by BP plc.

10/15/2019: Selected as an INK Fellow (21 in the world) by the Ixoraa Knowledge Foundation!

05/16/2019: Named a UNEP "Young Champions of the Earth" Finalist (5 in North America).

04/01/2019: Featured in EarthX 30 Under 30: The Green Generation.

03/18/2019: Named as AACYF 30 Under 30 – Class of 2019.

11/13/2018: Landed on Forbes 30 Under 30 in Energy – Class of 2019.

11/02/2018: Received the Top Prize from the Atkinson Center at Cornell.

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

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


I am a Ph.D. Candidate in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University 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.

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 selected into the Clinton Global Initiative University by the Clinton Foundation (2020), was named as a Future Energy Leader (11 in the world) by BP plc (2019), and was selected as a finalist in the Young Champions of the Earth Competition (5 in North America) by UN Environment (2019). I was named a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum (2019), a BP Advancing Energy Scholar to attend the One Young World Summit in London, UK (2019), and a Local Pathways Fellow by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network Youth (2018-2019).

Public speaking: I am featured by SPARK - Energy Re-Imagined to speak at the Carbon Capture Stream in London, UK (2020), 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), 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).

Academic activities: I was named one of the six national finalists in the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize by the Lemelson Foundation (2019), and received Honorable Mention for the Link Foundation Energy Fellowship by the Link Foundation (2019). I was selected to participate in the NextGen Professors Program (2019-2020) at Cornell, mentored an undergrad team that won the Bill Nye '77 Award in Undergrad Research (2019), and was the PI for the $20K Scale Up and Prototyping Awards (2017) at Cornell. I received the Research Excellence Award from MKS Instruments (2020), the Third Place Prize (2018) in Presentation by the AAAS, the Graduate Division Winner Award (2017) by Sigma Xi, and won two Best Poster Awards both in the US (2017) and abroad (2017).

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, Eng. Rep., etc.

Entrepreneurship: I am pursuing an entrepreneurship minor during my Ph.D. study, and am the current vice 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 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 Feb 2020).