Lenan Zhang joined Cornell University in July 2024 as an Assistant Professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He directs the Energy Research Laboratory (ERL), which aims to advance fundamental knowledge of energy conversion and transport and develop innovative solutions to sustainability. Lenan received his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Purdue University in 2016; and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018 and 2022, respectively. Prior to joining the faculty, he was a Research Scientist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lenan’s work was recognized by several awards and honors including the Best Inventions of 2023 (TIME Magazine), Wunsch Foundation Silent Hoist and Crane Award, Best Presentation Award in Materials Research Society, Top 10 MIT Research Stories of 2023 and 2020, and Martin Family Fellowship for Sustainability. His works have also been highlighted in TIME Magazine, Scientific American, MIT Technology Review, The Economist, Nature, among others.

Research Interests

Research activities at Energy Research Laboratory (ERL) combine the fundamental understanding of transport phenomena with the development of advanced metrology tools to create innovative solutions to energy sustainability. At a fundamental level, ERL’s research leverages mechanistic modeling and high-resolution spectroscopy to understand thermal and fluid transport at extreme length scales, from atomic level to macroscopic level. With new insights into the mechanisms of key physical phenomena, ERL develops high-performance real-world devices and systems for clean water production, green hydrogen evolution, and thermal management of electronics.

Selected Publications

  1. J. Gao, L. Zhang, J. You, Z. Ye, Y. Zhong, R. Wang, E.N. Wang, Z. Xu, “Extreme salt-resisting multistage solar distillation with thermohaline convection”, Joule, 7, 1–17, 2023.
  2. L. Zhang, X. Li, Y. Zhong, A. Leroy, Z. Xu, L. Zhao, E.N. Wang, “Highly efficient and salt rejecting solar evaporation via a wick-free confined water layer”, Nature Communications, 13, 849, 2022.
  3. L. Zhang, Z. Xu, L. Zhao, B. Bhatia, Y. Zhong, S. Gong, E.N. Wang, “Passive, high-efficiency thermally-localized solar desalination”, Energy & Environmental Science, 14, 1771, 2021.
  4. Z. Xu, L. Zhang, L. Zhao, B. Li, B. Bhatia, C. Wang, K. Wilke, Y. Song, O. Labban, J.H. Lienhard, R. Wang, E.N. Wang, “Ultrahigh-efficiency desalination via a thermally-localized multistage solar still”, Energy & Environmental Science, 13, 830, 2020.
  5. R. Iwata, L. Zhang, K. Wilke, S. Gong, M. He, B. Gallant, E.N. Wang, “Bubble growth and departure modes on wettable/non-wettable porous foams in alkaline water splitting”, Joule, 5, 887, 2021.
  6. L. Zhang, R. Iwata, L. Zhao, S. Gong, Z. Lu, Z. Xu, Y. Zhong, J. Zhu, S. Cruz, K. Wilke, P. Cheng, E.N. Wang, “Nucleation site distribution probed by phase-enhanced environmental scanning electron microscopy”, Cell Reports Physical Science, 1, 100262, 2020.
  7. L. Zhang, Y. Zhong, X. Li, J. Park, Q. Song, L. Li, L. Guo, J. Kong, G. Chen, EN. Wang, “Effect of twist angle on interfacial thermal transport in two-dimensional bilayers”, Nano Letters. 23, 7790-7796, 2023.
  8. Y. Zhong, L. Zhang, J. Park, S. Cruz, L. Li, L. Guo, J. Kong, E.N. Wang, “A unified approach and descriptor for the thermal expansion of two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenide monolayers”, Science Advances, 8, eabo3783, 2022.
  9. C.D. Diaz-Marin, L. Zhang, Z. Lu, M. Alshrah, J.C. Grossman, E.N. Wang, “Kinetics of sorption in hygroscopic hydrogels”, Nano Letters, 22, 3, 1100, 2022.
  10. L. Zhang, S. Gong, Z. Lu, P. Cheng, E.N. Wang, “Boiling crisis due to bubble interactions”, International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, 182, 121904, 2022.
  11. L. Zhang, Z. Xu, Z. Lu, J. Du, E.N. Wang, “Size distribution theory for jumping-droplet condensation”, Applied Physics Letters, 114, 1637011, 2019.
  12. L. Zhang, Y. Zhu, Z. Lu, L. Zhao, K. Bagnall, S. Rao, E.N. Wang, “Characterization of thin film evaporation in micropillar wicks using micro-Raman spectroscopy”, Applied Physics Letters, 113, 1637011, 2019.

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Selected Awards and Honors

  • The Best Inventions of 2023, TIME Magazine, 2023
  • Top MIT Research Stories of 2023
  • Best Research Award, Advanced Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology, 2023
  • Wunsch Foundation Silent Hoist and Crane Award, 2022
  • Best Presentation Award, MRS Fall Meeting, 2021
  • Luis de Florez Award in Science, 2021
  • Top MIT Research Stories of 2020
  • Martin Fellowship for Sustainability, 2020


B.S. Mechanical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 2016

B.S. Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University, 2016

M.S. Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2018

Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2022