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Will Hughes, Ph.D.

Director, Professor
Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering
Phone: 208-426-4859 | Fax: 208 426-2470 | Office: Ruch 338D
Will Hughes

Dr. William L. Hughes, Associate Professor of Materials Science & Engineering, joined Boise State University in August, 2008. In 2010, he also joined St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho as an affiliate faculty and research council member. He is a member of the university’s interdisciplinary Nanoscale Materials and Device Research Group, where his team engineers biomolecular tools made from DNA. Dr. Hughes has received recognition and funding for science, teaching, and civic engagement. Primary support comes from the W.M. Keck Foundation, the National Institutes for Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Dr. Hughes holds four patents in nanoscience, seven fellowships, and seven awards. For fellowship and award summaries, see the Education and Research sections, below.

Audio—Listen to a National Public Radio news report or read the transcript at the the Boise State Public Radio website to learn about Dr. Hughes' current research. It aims to use nucleic acid markers to fundamentally change early-stage disease diagnosis and treatment. The report focuses on lung cancer, the initial disease under study. (3:30 minutes)

Podcast—Go to The Future of DNA Nanotechnology at Boise State Univeristy Beyond the Blue website to hear Dr. Hughes' describe DNA’s potential as a future manufacturing process offering programmable building blocks at the nanoscale. (11 minutes)

Goals. While much of Dr. Hughes’ focus is on the very small—using DNA as a programmable building block for manufacturing biomedical tools—his primary research goal is to pursue scientific challenges that confront global needs. To help meet this goal, Dr. Hughes actively engages with colleagues across arenas such as science, engineering, medicine, and design. He believes that by crossing traditional domain barriers, our society can address historically unresolved questions, and perhaps discover solutions never before imagined. In addition to science, he also deeply considers his role as a professor. Here his goals are to act as a guide to the learning process, help students transform knowledge into functional wisdom, facilitate autonomy and creativity, promote teamwork and diversity, and balance classroom learning and performance outcomes.

Experience. Dr. Hughes completed undergraduate and doctoral degrees in Materials Science and Engineering, studying first at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), and then at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). Curricular minors addressed biomedical engineering. To support his undergraduate education, Dr. Hughes performed research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. As a graduate student, he conducted research under nanoscience pioneer, Z. L. Wang. His Ph.D. thesis is discovery, synthesis, characterization, and modeling of piezoelectric nanomaterials for device applications. In concert with doctoral work and with funding from NSF, Dr. Hughes also partnered with and taught at TECH High, then a new metro-Atlanta charter high school. Here he integrated inquiry-based instruction into science and pre-engineering classes. This experience introduced the complexity and severity of urban education problems, and offered the unique opportunity to observe, assess, and address learning environment fractures such as illiteracy, the digital divide, and scaled expectations for different socio-economic groups.

Dr. Hughes served as a post-doctoral fellow and Assistant Professor of Materials Engineering at the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo. Fellowship sponsors were the Washington D.C.-based National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and Center for the Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education (CASEE). While at Cal Poly, Dr. Hughes expanded the Materials Engineering department curriculum to include a year-long freshman community service project that placed equal emphasis on people, profit, and planet. Now at Boise State University, he is leading a W.M. Keck Foundation Award team, gaining formal biomedical training through an NIH Career Award, making noteworthy contributions to the DNA nanotechnology and engineering education fields, and collaborating to develop a doctoral program at one of the youngest and fastest growing materials science departments in the nation. Through growing research, community, and funding relationships, Dr. Hughes aims to become a leader in biome