Meet Yi Chao, Ph.D.

CEO & Founder

The Armchair Oceanographer

Yi Chao is the Founder and CEO of Seatrec. He pioneered the ocean thermal energy harvesting project at NASA JPL in collaboration with his co-Inventors, Jack Jones and Thomas Valdez. Additionally, Yi was the PI for the SOLO-TREC project funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the follow-on project Slocum-TREC. 

As an oceanographer prone to seasickness, Yi decided to study the ocean from outer space and was a Project Scientist for the successful Aquarius Satellite Mission (a $300M NASA project that launched the first salinity satellite), where he was responsible for science, technology, and engineering implementation. Yi has worked on numerous projects ranging from ocean science, satellite oceanography, ocean modeling, and underwater technology development. Currently, he is affiliated with the University of California at Los Angeles as an Adjunct Professor. 

Yi holds a B.Sc. in Atmospheric Physics from the University of Science and Technology of China, an Geophysical Fluid Dynamics from Princeton University, and a Ph.D. in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences from Princeton University.

Patent awarded: Phase Change Material Thermal Power Generator (US7987674, 2011)

Patent awarded: Phase Change Material Thermal Power Generator (US8689556, 2014)

Patent awarded: Environmental Thermal Energy Conversion (US10443581, 2019)

Patent-pending: Apparatus and Method for Making Internally Finned Pressure Vessel (2019).

On Land and On Sea

Fun facts:

My 1st oceanographic cruise was on a fishing vessel off the coast of Monterey to measure sea surface salinity in order to validate the measurements made by my NASA coworkers on a C-140 aircraft. Sadly, this was also my last because my seasickness comes in waves.






Walking on the beach, travel, music and audible books




Ability to listen and collaborate with teams.


Proud Dad of two Princeton tigers

Bucket list:

Galapagos Islands



Dream Job:

Enabler of technology transfer from academia to industry

Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.

-Peter Thiel