Xiangkun (Elvis) Cao

Ph.D. @Cornell, Forbes 30U30

Forbes | UNEP | UNICEF | Lindau | INK | BP | OYW | LinkedIn | Twitter | Google Scholar | SISE | ORCiD | 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.


I am a Ph.D. Candidate in 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 Ph.D. research at Cornell has two lines: 1) scalable artificial photosynthesis (References: CTF Grand Prize Winning Entry 2017, iScience article 2020, Int. J. Hydrog. Energy article 2018, TTI/Vanguard Talk 2019, WLF Talk 2020). 2) smartphone-based biosensors (References: Malaria Journal article 2019, TCAM Talk 2018, Cornell 3MT Talk 2017). My Master's research at McGill centered around micro-bubble facilitated inclusion removal in steelmaking tundish operations (References: Metall Mater Trans B article 2016, ISIJ Int. article 2016).

Below are some snapshots for my background.

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

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 undergraduate alma mater’s website for overseas education, as well as managing their WeChat platform. 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: 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 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 one of the six national finalists in the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize by the Lemelson Foundation (2019), and received Honorable Mention twice for the Link Foundation Energy Fellowship by the Link Foundation (2020, 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).

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 PI for the $20K Scale Up and Prototyping Awards (2017) at Cornell.

I have recently published work in Matter, iScience, Int. J. Hydrog. Energy, Anal. Chem., Fuel, Fuel Process. Technol., ISIJ Int., Malaria Journal, and Metall Mater Trans B, 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.

Social Impact: I was featured as a Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) Commitment-Maker as well as a CGI U Commitment Mentor 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 invited to attend the 50th St. Gallen Symposium in St. Gallen, Switzerland (2021), was named a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum (2019), and a BP Advancing Energy Scholar to attend the OYW Summit in London, UK (2019).

Public Speaking: I am featured by SPARK - Energy Re-Imagined to speak at the Carbon Capture Stream in London, UK (2021), and am invited by the late former President of France, Mr. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, and Mr. Michelangelo Baracchi Bonvicini, Honorary President and President of Atomium-EISMD, to speak about the innovation potential of the energy sector in the post-pandemic world at the Post-COVID summit (2021). I was 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 an invited speaker at IoT, Data, and the New Last Mile by TTI/Vanguard in Berkeley, CA (2019), was selected to present at Global Grad Show, an exhibition of creativity and social innovation of the Dubai Design Week (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 a Marla and Barry ILR ’90 Beck Entrepreneurship Fellow, am 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 has advanced into the final round (10 teams in the world) 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).

WBA Talks: During the COVID-19 pandemic, I co-founded the World Beyond Academia (WBA) Talk Series with my Ph.D. colleagues at McGill, Cambridge, and Harvard, aiming at bridging the information gap for current Ph.D. students and recent Ph.D. graduates who are considering non-academic career choices.

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

Curriculum Vitae: Long; Short (updated Feb 2021).