Xiangkun (Elvis) Cao

Ph.D. @Cornell, Forbes 30U30

Forbes | UNEP | UNICEF | Lindau | INK | EarthX | BP | OYW | LinkedIn | Twitter | Google Scholar | SISE | Publons | Wiki


01/21/2021: Glad to be featured in a blog by Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.

11/03/2020: Received the Best Presenter Award at the ETP 9th Annual Conference in Scotland!

06/02/2020: Selected as a Young Changemaker on Sustainable WASH Solutions by the United Nations Children's Fund!

05/27/2020: Highlighted in the World Economic Forum's white paper for global energy innovations.

03/02/2020: Selected as a Young Scientist Attendee (660 worldwide) for the 70th Lindau Nobel Meeting!

10/23/2019: Named a Future Energy Leader by BP plc.

10/15/2019: Selected as an INK Fellow (21 worldwide).

05/16/2019: Named as one of the five "Young Champions of the Earth" Finalists in North America by the United Nations Environment Programme!

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.

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


Academic Curriculum Vitae | Business Résumé | LinkedIn

I am currently a Ph.D. Candidate working on carbon conversion in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell in Ithaca, NY. From Fall 2021, I will be a Postdoctoral Associate working on carbon capture in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT in Cambridge, MA. During my Ph.D. study at Cornell, my major is Micro & Nanoscale Engineering, with minors in Energy & Sustainability, Materials Engineering, and Infection & Immunity. My Ph.D. research at Cornell has two lines: 1) scalable artificial photosynthesis (Ref: CTF Grand Prize Winning Entry 2017, iScience article 2020, Int. J. Hydrog. Energy article 2018, TTI/Vanguard Talk 2019, WLF Talk 2020, Cornell 3MT 2021). 2) smartphone-based biosensors (Ref: Malaria Journal article 2019, TCAM Talk 2018, Cornell 3MT 2017). My Master's research at McGill centered around micro-bubble facilitated inclusion removal in steelmaking tundish operations (Ref: Metall Mater Trans B article 2016, ISIJ Int. article 2016).

Below are some snapshots of my background.

Recognitions by the United Nations: I was a member of the Technical Working Group on Energy Transitions for the High-Level Dialogue on Energy by the United Nations (UN) (2021), was a Young Changemaker on Sustainable WASH Solutions (1 of 8 globally) by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) (2020), was twice named as a Young Champions of the Earth Competition finalist (5 in North America) by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2020, 2019), and was appointed as a Local Pathways Fellow (LPF) (2018-2019), and an LPF mentor (2021) by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network – Youth (SDSN Youth).

Top 10 List & Three 30 Under 30 Lists: I received the 13th “Top Ten Outstanding Chinese American Youth Award” (2020), and landed on three 30 Under 30 lists: the “30 Under 30” list in Energy by Forbes Magazine (2019), the “EarthX 30 Under 30: The Green Generation” list by the American Conservation Coalition (2019), and the “AACYF Top 30 Under 30 Elites” list in “Art, Culture, Science” by All America Chinese Youth Federation (2019).

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion: As a first-generation student, I recognize that not everyone has access to the same resources to pursue their goals. So I have been volunteering my time to manage my alma mater’s website for overseas education, and managing their WeChat platform with >2,000 followers. In 2020, I was featured in an interview piece by the host of the China Current, the UN goodwill ambassador, James Chau, in the story of "My Journey from Poverty to College." In 2021, I published an opinion article "Navigating my way as a first-generation student" on Matter, a Cell Press Journal, and a blog on Lindau Nobel Meetings.

Academic Activities: I have recently published my first-authored work in Matter (opinion), iScience, Int. J. Hydrog. Energy, and Malaria Journal, and have served as referee over 100 times for 8 journals, including Energy Convers. Manag, Renew. Energy, J. Mol. Liq., J. Clean. Prod., Int. J. Hydrog. Energy, IJEE, Metall Mater Trans B, Eng. Rep., etc. I was selected into the NextGen Professors Program (2019-2020), mentored an undergrad team that won the Bill Nye '77 Award in Undergrad Research (2019), and was the co-PI for the $20K Scale Up and Prototyping Awards (2017) at Cornell.

My Ph.D. research at Cornell on solar fuels was featured in the World Economic Forum's white paper as an energy innovation breakthrough of the past decade (2020). I was named a German Chancellor Fellow by the Humboldt Foundation (2021), a Young Scientist to attend the 70th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany (2020), a Young Investigator to attend the World Laureates Forum in Shanghai, China (2020), and a Student Energy Leader to attend the 10th ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Denver, CO (2019). I received the MKS Instruments Research Excellence Award at Photonics West in San Francisco, CA (2020).

I was named a Future Energy Leader (FEL-100) by the World Energy Council (2021), twice Honorable Mention winner for the Link Foundation Energy Fellowship by the Link Foundation (2020, 2019), and a finalist in the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize by the Lemelson Foundation (2019). I received the National Third Place Prize (2018) in Presentation by the AAAS, the National Graduate Division Winner Award (2017) by Sigma Xi, and won two Best Poster Awards both in the US (2017) and abroad (2017).

Social Impact: I was featured as a Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) Commitment-Maker by the Clinton Foundation (2020), and was featured as a Future Energy Leader (11 in the world) tackling the need for cleaner energy by BP plc (2019). I was named a Leader of Tomorrow to attend the 50th St. Gallen Symposium in St. Gallen, Switzerland (2021), a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum in the Ithaca Hub (2019), and a BP Advancing Energy Scholar to attend the OYW Summit in London, UK (2019).

Public Speaking: I was invited as a speaker and moderator by the late former President of France, Mr. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, to speak about the innovation potential of the energy sector in the post-pandemic world at the Post-COVID summit (2022). I was a panelist to a Round Table Talk on Climate Crisis with BP's CEO, Bernard Looney (2021), a panelist at the Global Policy Dialogue for Climate Action by UN DESA (2021), and a featured speaker at the "Bold Actions for Food as a Force for Good Summit," a pre-event in support of the UN Food Systems Summit (2020). I was invited to speak at IoT, Data, and the New Last Mile by TTI/Vanguard, an advanced technology research membership for senior-level executives, in Berkeley, CA (2019), was selected to present at Global Grad Show, an exhibition of creativity and social innovation of the Dubai Design Week in Dubai (2019), and was selected as an INK Fellow to speak about solar fuels in Jaisalmer, India (2019), along with George A. Papandreou, a former Prime Minister of Greece. 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 selected as a Marla and Barry ILR ’90 Beck Entrepreneurship Fellow at Cornell. I served as the vice president of the Chinese Entrepreneur Association at Cornell, and received a $5,000 Blackstone Launchpad & Techstars Fellowship. 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, is a finalist for the Best CO2 Utilisation Award (2021), and a finalist (1 of 10 teams globally) for the $20M NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE (2016-2021), a global competition to develop breakthrough technologies for CO2 conversion.

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 about me and my research, click on “Publications” and “A summary of media and awards”.