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Post-doc path leads outstanding MAE PhD to industry, academia

Yijin Mao sits at a desk with a desktop and laptop computer.

The computer screens in front of post-doctoral researcher Yijin Mao show some of the programming he worked on as a doctoral candidate in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department.

After being named MU Engineering’s mechanical engineering outstanding doctoral student last March, Yijin Mao has followed a path that has already taken him from a student to a researcher, and later, he hopes, to becoming an industrialist and teacher.

Growing up in Zhejiang, he attended China Agricultural University because of the promise that industry holds in China. Mao is a post-doctoral researcher who obtained his doctorate last May from Mizzou’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department. In China, he earned a master’s degree in agricultural mechanization and a bachelor’s degree in engineering mechanics.

“After four years as a bachelor’s student, I had convinced myself to use my education for agricultural applications,” he said. “I went to my adviser’s office and realized my knowledge base was not complete — it needed more — so my adviser suggested I go abroad and study in the U.S.”

Mao chose Mizzou because of scholarship opportunities, and got involved with MAE Department Chair Yuwen Zhang’s research in multiscale heat transfer. As a doctoral candidate, he worked with open-source software — specifically OpenFOAM and LAMMPS — to solve multi-scale heat transfer problems.

“I put the two together and maximized their capabilities without losing any computational efficiency,” Mao said. Eventually, he was able to create a new program that he hopes to release as open-source software for others’ to use.

“I benefitted greatly from the open-source community, so I wanted to give back to it,” Mao said.

Zhang said Mao was a model student.

“It was very fortunate for me to have outstanding student like Yijin,” Zhang said. “He worked on a number of projects in broad range of topics and successfully completed all of them. He is very innovative and hardworking. Since he joined Mizzou in 2010, he has published nine articles in the leading journals in the field.”

As a post-doc, he is continues to improve the software, as well as teaching and continuing to conduct research in multi-scale heat transfer. He plans to go into industry before a possible career in academia.

“I put a lot of thought into what I wanted to do in the future before I even came here,” Mao said. “I want to put what I’ve learned into real-world applications and be a practical, hands-on engineer.”

Mao said he is grateful for the experience he received at MU and in Columbia, which extended beyond academics to include life skills, such as driving a car and exercising the campus recreation facilities.

“I was shocked by Midwest opportunity and how nice the people are,” he said.