Gibum Kwon

Gibum Kwon
  • Assistant Professor

Contact Info

Learned Hall, room 3165B


I joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2016. I received my Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan in 2014 where I was awarded a Materials Research Society (MRS) Graduate Student Silver Award (2013) and multiple poster awards. From 2014 to 2016, I worked as a Postdoctoral Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I conducted research on photo-responsive semiconducting materials. I have co-authored multiple refereed journal articles, as well as 7 patents of which 2 have been licensed. My current research interests include liquid-liquid separations, superomniphobic and self-healing surfaces, and photocatalytic and frost-resisting coatings.


The primary focus of my research program is to design and fabricate functional materials that have a wide variety of applications that involve self-healing polymers, membranes, and surfaces with switchable wetting.

My research group has made the following contributions to the fields of mechanical engineering and surface and interface science.
Self-healable polymers: The ever-increasing demand for extending products longevity has resulted in the development of self-healable polymers. These polymers can autonomously heal the physical damages without the need for external intervention. Recently, we have synthesized such a self-healable polymer coating that can rapidly (< 1 min) repair any physical damages upon application of humid air and fully restore its original physicochemical characteristics.
Membranes: The remediation of wastewater and produced water includes the separation of oil from the water phase in conjunction with removing miscible and immiscible pollutants. Membrane-based technologies are attractive because they are relatively energy-efficient and applicable to a wide range of effluents. We have developed photocatalytic membranes with selective wettability of water over oil. We envision that our membranes will have a range of applications including oil-water separation, wastewater treatment, and desalination of produced water. The results were compiled and submitted to Global Challenges as a research article titled “Visible Light Responsive Photocatalytic Membrane for Continuous Oil-Water Separation and In Situ Water Decontamination.” We also are currently preparing two manuscripts entitled “Self-Cleaning and Fouling-Resistant RO Membrane for Desalination of Oily Saline Wastewater” and “Janus Membrane for Coupled Operation of Oil-Water Separation and In-Situ Water Decontamination."
Surfaces with Switchable Wetting: Recent advances on surface and interface science involve surfaces with switchable wettability upon triggers including light, pH level, temperature, humidity, and so on. I have developed photo-responsive surfaces that can transition from the original hydrophobic wetting state to a hydrophilic wetting state upon irradiation of visible light. The results were published as a journal article, “Visible Light Guided Manipulation of Liquid Wettability on Photoresponsive Surfaces,” Nature Communications 2017, 8, 14968. Recently, I have developed a thermo-responsive switchable hydrogel that can selectively absorb polar liquids (e.g., water and alcohol) while repelling non-polar liquids (e.g., oils). This invention and discovery have led me to an NSF CAREER award. We envision that our hydrogel has extensive applications such as wastewater treatment, drug delivery, and chemical characterization platforms.

Research interests:

  • surfaces
  • interfaces
  • membranes
  • wettability
  • liquids separation
  • functional materials
  • hydrogels


I teach an undergraduate course, “Engineering Materials Laboratory,” and two graduate level courses, “Introduction to Surface and Interface Science” and “Advanced Functional Materials and Coatings.” The ultimate teaching goals for my courses are as follows:

- the students learn the course materials and have all the questions answered before leaving the classroom
- the students develop their own ideas towards solving a particular problem
- the students not only learn the course materials but also acquire a broader view of the real-world applications
- the students utilize the knowledge learned in the class to prepare for their professional future career

To achieve these goals, I have been practicing interactive teaching and learning and establishing a friendly yet responsible environment in my classes. For example, in a graduate course, I ask the students to introduce themselves and their research themes in the first class. This not only works as an icebreaker to foster active interaction and discussion but also allows me to familiarize myself to the students’ academic backgrounds. Further, this helps me design the course contents to best suit the students’ interests. Also, I distribute a questionnaire containing simple and engaging questions about the surface and interface science. The questionnaire is followed by an idea exchange session between the students and me. This helps create a friendly environment and lets students develop curiosity about the course materials.

Apart from engaging students in course discussions, the way the course contents are delivered to the students can also significantly affect their learning. To do this, I usually include visual demonstrations such as videos, photos, and schematics in the lecture slides. This helps students learn the course materials with greater ease. Sometimes I have found that the traditional method of writing on a white board can be more effective than showing slides. I have received positive feedback from several students who appreciate this method of writing down mathematical equations and step-by-step derivations on a white board.

While teaching is an important component of learning, intertwining it with research can boost students’ motivation for learning new challenging concepts. I have provided students with opportunities to integrate classroom learning and real research practices. This was accomplished by holding a laboratory tour and introducing the ongoing research news to students. Several undergraduate students who took my courses became interested in graduate school and conducted research in my laboratory.

I have tried to incorporate my active interaction with students into my evaluation as well. I found that the most effective way to evaluate students’ achievement is interacting with them outside of the class and asking them for feedback on the course and their self-evaluation. This not only reduces their anxiety before exams, but it can also help them to feel empowered to push themselves forward.

Teaching interests:

  • materials
  • coatings, surfaces
  • interfaces
  • wettability


I have undertaken several administrative, supervisory, and professional service responsibilities at the department and the school level as well as at the national and international level. At the department level, I have been involved in the Graduate Applications Committee as a member since September 2016. In this position, I am responsible for reviewing the credentials of the prospective graduate applicants and selecting the outstanding candidates to be admitted as graduate program to the department. Also, I have been involved in the Doctoral Qualifying Exam Committee as its coordinator since Fall 2019. My responsibilities include coordinating the doctoral qualifying examination by forming a qualifying exam committee, scheduling an exam, and reporting the evaluation to the chair of the committee. I have also been involved in the Department Chair Search Committee as a member in 2017 Fall to 2018 Spring. I was responsible for reviewing and evaluating the applicants’ credentials and shortlisting the selected candidates for interviews. My responsibility also included interviewing the candidates over the phone and in person. At the school level, I have been a member of Engineering Library Committee in the School of Engineering from August 2017 till now. My responsibility includes determining the (un)subscription to engineering packages, journals, databases.

Outside the university, I have provided several professional services in research communities. I co-organized a special symposium of “Advances in Wettability and Adhesion” at the ACS National Meeting in 2017. At the symposium, more than 40 internationally renowned surface scientists presented their ongoing research and exchanged idea. At the 2018 MRS Fall meeting, I chaired a symposium of “Nanomaterials for the Water and Energy Nexus.” I have reviewed several manuscripts submitted to journals including Nature Communications, ACS applied materials and interfaces, journal of colloid and interface science. Further, I have served on several grant proposal review panels including NSF CAREER program, NSF CBET Molecular Separation (2018) and Environmental Engineering programs (2017), ACS PRF (2017), King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM, Saudi Arabia) (2018), and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC, Canada) (October 2018).