Center for Emergent Materials awarded $18 Million NSF Grant to Support High-Impact, Cutting-Edge Science

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that the Center for Emergent Materials (CEM) at The Ohio State University has been awarded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) funding for the third time since 2008. This $18 million, six-year grant will fund transformative science and complex materials discovery by two multidisciplinary, collaborative groups of researchers and includes funding to help ease entry into science from underrepresented groups.

“We are excited to have won this highly prized funding because it enables scientists to undertake complex and transformative projects at the scientific frontiers, and provides sustained support for diverse teams to collaboratively synthesize new understanding and open new research topics,” said P. Chris Hammel, Ohio Eminent Scholar, physics professor and director of the Center for Emergent Materials.

After an intense and highly competitive process, 11 MRSECs were funded for this cycle, bringing the nationwide total to 19. A flagship initiative for NSF, the MRSEC program funds research at the cutting-edge of scientific discovery by enabling teams of researchers to tackle scientific problems that are too large and complex for one person or one group to make an impact. These teams, called Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs), are made up of a diverse group of faculty, their students and postdoctoral researchers.

This funding will allow CEM to continue its history of excellence with two new IRGs, which aim to develop materials that grant improved control over magnetic properties, generating new paradigms in computing and information storage.

IRG-1: Creation and Control of Metal/Magnetic-Insulator Interfaces is co-led by Jinwoo Hwang, associate professor of materials science engineering, and Fengyuan Yang, professor of physics. This group will focus on magnetic interactions at interfaces between metals and magnets. The team includes faculty in the fields of chemistry and biochemistry, materials science engineering and physics at Ohio State and Carnegie Mellon University.

IRG-2: Topology and Fractionalization in Magnetic Materials is co-led by Joseph Heremans, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and physics, and Yuan-Ming Lu, associate professor of physics. Group members will focus on control of configurations and interrelationships between magnetic interactions that protect magnetic states against omnipresent disruptive forces. The team is made up of faculty in chemistry and biochemistry, materials science engineering, mechanical and aerospace engineering and physics at Ohio State and Colorado State University.

“An important benefit of this funding is its support for a seed program that nurtures new science and prepares young scientists to be leaders,” explained Hammel. “For example, IRG-1 grew out of a project initiated by Prof. Jinwoo Hwang with seed funding support.”

Both of the IRGs were nucleated in the Ohio State’s Materials Research Seed Grant Program, an enterprising Ohio State program run by the CEM, the Center for Exploration of Novel Complex Materials (ENCOMM), and the Institute for Materials Research (IMR) that supports new developments in materials research.

A robust education, human resources and development (EHRD) program aimed at increasing scientific literacy and diversity from elementary school students through the faculty ranks rounds out the new initiatives this award will enable. CEM will continue to provide mentorship for high-needs K-12 students through outreach and tutoring programs. The externally funded Masters-to-Ph.D. minority Bridge Program, which increases the pool of faculty candidates from underrepresented backgrounds continues to be essential to CEM’s EHRD efforts.

“Center faculty and current bridge students are vital participants that provide research and academic mentorship and support to incoming bridge students,” said Michelle McCombs, CEM’s outreach and inclusion director. “Connecting new students to a network of Bridge peers eases the transition to graduate school life and provides a direct link to older students who are invaluable sources of advice.”

Additionally, CEM’s new Diversity Action Plan, founded on proven strategies employing concrete, measureable steps, is focused on improving faculty and post-secondary diversity.

“Through implementation of the additional strategies, we will have the opportunity to further expand prior efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion of the CEM in more meaningful and sustainable ways,” said La’Tonia Stiner-Jones, assistant dean of graduate programs in graduate education, assistant professor of practice in biomedical engineering and CEM’s senior advisor for diversity and inclusion.

Two CEM Faculty Receive Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award

Prof. Jessica Winter, CEM’s Associate Director and member of IRG-2, and Prof. Rolando Valdes Aguilar, an IRG-1 faculty member and CEM’s Summer REU Director, received the 2020 Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award from Ohio State’s Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Inquiry. This award was created to honor individuals who have demonstrated success in mentoring undergraduates in their research and/or creative inquiry endeavors.

Created only a couple of years ago, the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award relies on nominations from undergraduate students at any Ohio Sate campus. Prof. Winter was nominated for the award by Thomas Porter and Prof. Valdes Aguilar was nominated for the award by Elijah Kritzell. More information about these awards can be found on the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Physics websites.

Robert Baker Wins Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award

CEM member Robert Baker, associate professor in Ohio State University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was named one of 14 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholars for 2020.

The Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards Program supports the research and teaching careers of talented young faculty in the chemical sciences. Based on institutional nominations, the program provides an unrestricted research grant of $100,000 to faculty within the first five years of their careers. To be selected, a faculty member must have created an outstanding body of scholarship and a demonstrated commitment to education.

Robert Baker will be using this award to fund his “Visualizing Charge and Spin Dynamics at Interfaces” project. He is the fifteenth Ohio State University faculty member to win the award since the program’s inception in 1970.

Tiny magnetic particles enable new material to bend, twist and grab

A CEM-supported research team from The Ohio State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a material system that can transform into different shapes through the application of magnetic fields.

The new material, called magnetic shape memory polymers, has the potential to enable a wide range of applications, from biomedical devices to soft robotics. The novel magnetic shape memory polymer composite enables tunable rigidity and has multiple shape manipulation capabilities.

The discovery was reported in the most recent issue of Advanced Materials.

“The new functional soft material enables the development of new advanced material systems that could potentially revolutionize multifunctional robots and machines,” said Renee Zhao, an assistant professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE). Zhao served as co-principal investigator with H. Jerry Qi, professor of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech.

The new materials integrates fast reversible and reprogrammable actuation, shape locking, and untethered operation for applications in soft robotics, actuators with large gripping force, morphing structures, deformable electronics, especially for designing active and adaptive guidewires, catheters, and stents that could potentially enable the next generation of biomedical devices for minimally invasive operations.

The material is novel in that it achieves multiple shape manipulations in a single material system.

“One of the big challenges in the soft active materials field is how to integrate various shape manipulations into one material system for multifunctional purposes, as many such manipulations are contradictory to each other,” Zhao said. “For example, fast reversible shape change requires that the material can respond to external stimulus rapidly, but shape locking needs the material to have no response or needs to maintain the external stimulus, which requires a constant energy input.”

The magnetic shape memory polymer composite is comprised of an amorphous shape memory polymer matrix of two types of magnetic particles. Researchers were able to soften the matrix and make it pliable by applying a high-frequency, oscillating magnetic field to heat the iron oxide particles and raise the temperature of the actuated shape. Applying a second magnetic field caused rapid and reversible shape change under actuation magnetic fields. Once the shape memory polymers cooled, the shape locked in position.

In a locked state, the strength of the material allowed an actuated gripper to lift up to 1,000 times its own weight. On top of this, the material is adaptive to extreme conditions, allowing application for an array of uses, Zhao said.

“The degree of freedom is limited in conventional robotics,” she said. “With soft materials, that degree of freedom is unlimited.”

Other Ohio State investigators included MAE postdoc Qiji Ze, MAE students Shuai Wu and Rundong Zhang, as well as CEM faculty member Fengyuan Yang, professor of Physics and director of the Center for Exploration of Novel Complex Materials.

The research was supported by Ohio State’s Materials Research Seed Grant Program, funded by the Center for Emergent Materials, an NSF-MRSEC; the Center for Exploration of Novel Complex Materials; and the Institute for Materials Research. Research was also supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with an award to Ohio State through NSF’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers.

Cross-IRG Research Published in Physical Review Letters

This week, CEM members from all three IRG’s had a joint paper published in Physical Review Letters‘ first issue of 2020. The paper, titled “Fundamental Spin Interactions Underlying the Magnetic Anisotropy in the Kitaev Ferromagnet CrI3“, was co-authored by IRG-1 co-lead Prof. Nandini Trivedi, IRG-2 co-lead Prof. Joshua Goldberger, and Director and IRG-3 member Prof. Chris Hammel, as well as several CEM grad students. Funded primarily by CEM, the researchers also collaborated with scientists at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and the Korea Institute for Advanced Study. The paper can be read on the Physical Review Letters website