University of Utah mechanical engineering assistant professor Yong Lin Kong has been awarded a highly prestigious Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Program (ONR YIP) award. Kong will receive $750,000 over three years for his proposal.

Established in 1985, the ONR Young Investigator Program is one of the nation’s oldest and most selective basic-research, early-career awards in science and technology, where prior academic achievement and potential for significant scientific breakthrough are key elements of the evaluation criteria. You can read about all of this year’s winners on ONR’s website:  “Best and Brightest: ONR’S 2023 Young Investigator”.

Kong’s proposal, “Gastric Resident Electronics for Marine Mammals Health,” will study the relationship between the gastrointestinal tract of multi-chamber stomachs as exhibited in some of the marine mammals with gastric resident architecture. Marine mammals play an indispensable role in US Navy by providing rapidly deployable support in mine and undersea warfare missions. In fact, marine mammals’ unique capabilities and physiological adaptations, such as dolphins’ underwater directional hearing with sonar and sea lions’ low-light vision, have yet to be matched by existing technological counterparts. However, despite the best possible veterinary care provided, the diagnosis and management of marine mammals’ health remain challenging.

Wireless electronics can potentially improve the diagnosis and treatment of marine mammals, but prior development of implantable wearable and epidermal electronics has not successfully overcome the fundamental incompatibilities that arise from the innate anatomical and physiological differences between terrestrial mammals and marine mammals.

Kong’s earlier invention in gastric resident electronics can potentially provide direct access to the body of marine mammals, which is otherwise can be challenging to reach without invasive probing. This provides avenues for physiological monitoring and access to blood vessels, the enteric nervous system, and gut microbiota. Nevertheless, it is unclear how the distinctions of the stomach structure will affect the device, and more importantly, how the presence of such a device will affect the GI tract.

“I am extremely grateful for the Office of Naval Research’s recognition with this prestigious award and the support from the Marine Mammal Health Program,” said Kong. “The award will provide critical resources to study the relationship between a multi-chamber stomach and gastric resident architecture, which is the first crucial step to develop a digital-based diagnosis and treatment strategy that can ultimately improve marine mammals’ health.”

Kong received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and materials science from Princeton University in 2016 and was a postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2016–2017). His research focuses on the additive manufacturing of nanomaterial-based functional devices and biomedical devices and has been awarded patents in “3D printed active electronic materials and devices” and “3D printed multi-functional hybrid devices and structures”, and invented “gastric resident electronics”. In addition to the ONR YIP award, he is also the recipient of awards such as the NIH Trailblazer Award, NIH R01 Award, and a 3M Nontenured Faculty Award. You can learn more about Kong’s work through the Kong Research Group website.