` Nan Zhao

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Nan Zhao is a PhD student at MIT Media Lab, where she works on interfaces and devices that enable sustainable behavior while also improving user experience and allow self-expression. Her work spans indoor lighting design to smart urban furniture, and borrows from a variety of fields, including psychology, sensor technologies, and wearable computing technology.

Nan is also co-founder of Changing Environments Inc, a venture backed start-up developing technology for smarter cities. CE's first product Soofa, a solar charging bench for public spaces, has received love and support from around the world.

Before joining the Media Lab, Nan conducted research in smart grid and vehicle-to-grid technology. As a fellow of RWE AG, a leading electricity and gas company in Germany, she was closely involved in the development and kick-off of a smart grid project in collaboration with IBM. She is a graduate in Electrical Engineering from RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

Nan Zhao’s work has been covered by Reuters, Spiegel, FAZ, The Boston Globe, CNN, MIT News, Engadget, and others.

Recent Projects

Halo: Personal Lighting Experiment

Soofa: Solar Power for Everyone

Lighting Lab

Blog: Workshops, Teaching, Tutorials ...


A Multidimensional Continuous Contextual Lighting Control System Using Google Glass presented at BuildSys'15, Seoul, South Korea.
Authors: N. Zhao, M. Aldrich, C.F. Reinhart, J.A. Paradiso.
project website, PDF
Best Presentation
Tag: Wearable, Lighting Control, User Interface, Smart Environments
HALO: Wearable Lighting presented at UbiComp/ISWC '15 Adjunct, September 7-11, 2015, Osaka, Japan.
Authors: N. Zhao and J.A. Paradiso.
project website, PDF
Award for Best Esthetics, ISWC Design Exhibition
Tag: Wearable, Lighting, Art
EMI Spy: Harnessing Electromagnetic Interference for Low-Cost, Rapid Prototyping of Proxemic Interaction presented at IEEE Conference on Body Sensor Networks (BSN), Cambridge, MA, 2015.
Authors: N. Zhao, G. Dublon, A. Dementyev, N. Gillian, and J.A. Paradiso.
project website, PDF
Tag: Sensors, Wearable, Machine Learning
Random Walk and Lighting Control presented in Proceedings of the IEEE Sensors Conference, Baltimore, MD, 2013.
Authors: Aldrich, Badshah, Mayton, Zhao, Paradiso.
project website, PDF
Tag: Sensor Network, Lighting Control
WristQue: A personal sensor wristband in Body Sensor Networks (BSN), 2013 IEEE International Conference on , vol., no., pp.1,6, 2013.
Authors: Brian D. Mayton, N. Zhao, M. Aldrich, N. Gillian, J.A. Paradiso.
project website, PDF
Best Paper
Tag: Wearable, Sensors, Gesture Recognition, Machine Learning
A Customizable Sensate Surface for Music Control presented in Proceedings of NIME 2012, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2012.
Authors: N-W. Gong, N. Zhao, and J.A. Paradiso.
project website, PDF
Tag: Sensors, Flexible Electronics, Printed Electronics
Ferro tale: electromagnetic animation interface presented in CHI '12 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA '12). ACM, New York, NY, USA
Authors: Nan Zhao, Xiang Cao, and Jaturont Jamigranont.
project website, PDF
Tag: Art, Electromagnetic Actuation
Energy-efficient control of solid-state lighting presented in SPIE Newsroom, March 25 2011.
Authors: M. Aldrich, N. Zhao, J.A. Paradiso
project website, PDF
Tag: Sensors, Lighting Control
Energy Efficient Control of Polychromatic Solid-State Lighting Using a Sensor Network presented in Proc. SPIE (OP10) 7784 , San Diego CA, August 1-5, 2010.
Authors: M. Aldrich, N. Zhao, J.A. Paradiso
project website, PDF
Tag: Sensors, Lighting Control

Awards and Fellowships:
2013-2014 MIT Energy Fellow
2012 Department of Energy Better Building Case Competition
2011 RWTH Aachen Springorum-Denkmuenze
2007 Nokia Siemens Networks Frauenfoerderpreis Nokia Siemens Networks Women’s Prize
2007 RWE Studienfoerderung RWE Industry Fellowship
2006 Ideenwettbewerb: Wohnkomfort 2020 Ideas Competition: Living Comfort 2020
2005 DPG-Buchpreis German Association of Physics Book Prize

Outside MIT:
2014 Co-founder of Changing Environments Inc, venture backed start-up providing smart city technology
2011 Internship at Microsoft Research Asia HCI Group: Nan worked on ferro tale, an electromagnetic animation interface. This interactive display uses magnetic particles, computer vision, and closed loop feedback for actuated "sand drawing".
2010 Internship at RWE Deutschland AG Neue Technologien (New Technologies): Nan worked closely with IMB Research on a smart grid project, representing RWE as the project manager. This proposal, which used an agent based approach, grew to become Smart Operators. It was deployed and became a "lighthouse" project at RWE.
2009 Research at Imperial College London: Nan designed a price-oriented Vehicle-to-Grid charge and discharge scheduler, including micro grid simulation.
2009-2007 Research Assistant at Laboratory of Machine Tools and Production Engineering RWTH Aachen University: Nan worked on a software tool for digital manufacturing that allows easy integration between production files from multiple disciplines such as electrical and mechanical engineering.

2015 DOE Lighting Workshop in San Francisco
2014 Panel Keynote at Data Days 2014 in Berlin
2013 Tencent's WE summit in Shenzhen, China
2013 Boston Design Exchange in Boston

other things:
smartphone homunculus