Renee Zhao receives 2 NSF awards in Spring 2020 to study magnetic soft materials

mhuson Faculty Awards, General, Grants, Materials and Manufacturing for Sustainability

Renee Zhao, an assistant professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has received  two awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Spring 2020.


Earlier this year, Zhao received a five-year, $562,511 NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for her research in the mechanics of soft intelligent materials.


More recently, NSF announced she will be awarded $398,773 over three years for the project “Micromechanics of Interactions Between Hard Magnetic Particles and Soft Matrix on Magneto-Mechanical Actuation.”


“The two grants will facilitate the investigation of the mechanical behavior of the magnetic soft materials,” Zhao said. “These materials are composites with hard-magnetic particles embedded in soft matrixes. Upon the application of an external magnetic field, the composite could provide untethered, fast and reversible deformation with large shape changes. The magnetic soft materials have already demonstrated potentials in designing morphing structures and actuators for various engineering applications.


“These two grants will bridge fundamental mechanics with multifunctional material design, which will further advance the magnetic soft materials’ applications in the next-generation soft robotics and biomedical devices.”


Zhao joined The Ohio State University in 2018 through the Materials and Manufacturing for Sustainability Discovery Theme, operated by the Institute for Materials Research. She is the director of the Soft Intelligent Materials Laboratory.


The NSF CAREER award is NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of both, according to the agency’s website.


Zhao’s project, “Multiphysics Mechanics of Magnetic Shape Memory Polymers,” seeks to create a wide understanding of the materials, a model to demonstrate the magneto-thermo-viscoelastic behavior, as well as a simulation platform to increase interest in possible uses. The NSF Career Award will support the fundamental mechanics study of this novel soft intelligent material, the magnetic shape memory polymers, which was recently developed and published as a cover article in Advanced Materials.


In June, Zhao will begin her three-year project, studying the micromechanics of the magneto-mechanical actuation of hard-magnetic soft active materials.


Hard-magnetic soft active materials are composites with hard-magnetic particles embedded in soft matrices that can be rapidly and remotely activated. Zhao’s work will study how behavior at the microscopic level drives the operation of the macroscopic material.


Additionally, this project will promote STEM education, with a focus on  K-12 education and students from underrepresented groups, through demonstrations of hard-magnetic soft active materials utilized in soft robots.


Both awards are funded by the NSF Mechanics of Materials and Structures program.


Zhao earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Xi’an Jiaotong University in 2012. She then studied at Brown University, earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2014, and then a doctoral degree from the Brown School of Engineering in 2016. She was a postdoc at the MIT School of Engineering from 2016 to 2018.


Story by Mike Huson, IMR Public Relations


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