Yao is a PhD student in the complex fluids lab at Princeton University. Her research focuses on the experimental modeling of the hydraulic fracturing process, in which high pressure liquid is injected and fractures shale formations to release oil and natural gas. She investigates the effects of fluid viscosity and rock elasticity on the growth rate of the hydraulic fractures. She also studies the timescale at which the fracturing fluid flows back to the surface from the underground fractures once the injection pressure is removed and the amount of liquid that is permanently trapped underground due to the rock heterogeneity.
Recently Yao has been working on a new technique in which foam is injected as a fracturing fluid to reduce the water use and the damage to water-sensitive reservoirs in hydraulic fracturing.