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Cho expands research initiatives with NSF, DARPA awards

It was a productive summer for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Assistant Professor Hanna Cho. She was awarded funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Partnership for Innovation and her previous Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Young Faculty designation was converted to a prestigious Director’s Fellowship.

NSF’s Partnerships for Innovation program seeks to translate higher education research into societal benefits, while supporting collaborative projects with commercialization viability. Cho received $200,000 to commercialize an atomic force microscopy (AFM) tool for enhanced materials characterization.

Graduate research assistants working on the NSF and DARPA projects, left to right: Keivan Asadi, Jun Yu, (Prof. Cho) and Sajith Dharmasena.A previous NSF-funded project enabled Cho and her team to design the new tool: an AFM probe that significantly enhances the capabilities of current technology. The invention equips the AFM probe with two independent channels—unlike one channel for conventional probes—to characterize material properties beyond topological information.

Now, the new NSF-PFI funding will support the team in commercializing that technology.

Cho, who directs the Micro/Nano Multiphysical Dynamics Laboratory, described the impact of the award. “With the funding, our team will develop a batch microfabrication process of the new probe design and demonstrate its functionality in customer settings, which will facilitate the transfer of technology to AFM industry,” she said.

In addition to the NSF award, Cho also received an extension to her DARPA Young Faculty Award, converting it to a Director’s Fellowship. The original award allowed Cho to investigate mechanical resonances in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) for two years. The competitive fellowship will extend project funding to a third year, enabling groundbreaking research to continue.

“During the two years of the project, our lab found that a nonlinear mechanism called internal resonance can control the energy transfer within a microscale resonator and eventually manipulate its resonant behaviors,” said Cho.

This is significant because the mechanism can be used in various MEMS applications, such as oscillators and accelerometers. MEMS have a wide range of use—from transportation technologies to biomedical functions.

The DARPA award will support Cho’s research for the third year in the amount of $471,383.

The DARPA Young Faculty Award (YFA) program aims to identify and engage rising stars in junior faculty positions in academia and equivalent positions at non-profit research institutions and expose them to Department of Defense (DoD) and National Security challenges and needs. DARPA is an agency of DoD responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military.

Tags: Research