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Locke earns five-year, $530K NSF CAREER award

Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Jenifer Locke has received a five-year, $530,450 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for her research in environmental cracking and corrosion.

Jen Locke performs research in her labAsst. Prof. Jenifer Locke works in her lab in the Fontana Corrosion CenterThe 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.

Locke’s research focuses on environment-assisted cracking and aluminum-based alloys. Her project, “Understanding the Role of Cu-Containing Secondary Phase Particles in Enhancing the Resistance to the Environmental Acceleration to Fatigue in Age-Hardenable Al Alloys” aims to improve the sustainable use of metals utilized in infrastructure. Examples include the aluminum and steel used for aircraft, automobiles, bridges, ships and nuclear waste storage.

According to Locke, a major problem when considering the sustainable use of metals is environmental degradation through corrosion processes and the need for engineers educated in both environmental degradation—specifically corrosion and related cracking—and materials science. In everyday life, corrosion is typically seen as rust, but can go undetected in aging infrastructure and cause catastrophic failures that severely limit sustainable long-term use of engineered metal structures. Her research seeks to understand why some aluminum-based metals have inherently better resistance to the environmental acceleration of cracking and associated failures. Findings could help improve the performance and long term sustainable use of metals that have lower environmental resistance to cracking.

Jenifer LockeLocke“Essentially we will be working to test a hypothesis that certain alloys’ metallurgically controlled corrosion behavior, which is typically seen as bad, facilitates less aggressive crack tip conditions, allowing them to be inherently more resistant to environment-assisted cracking,” explained Locke.

To test this hypothesis, Locke will use an experimental technique developed in her lab under previous NSF funding to monitor the crack tip pH and correlate it to the resistance of each alloy type.

The project also includes a plan for integrating research and education. The CAREER Award will support a graduate student for five years, five years of REU (Research Experience of Undergraduates), and RET (Research Experience for Teachers) participants. The combined team will work on research to develop corrosion-related demos, which will be accompanied by custom-made videos to teach the community about corrosion and its relation to sustainability. Additionally, Locke’s research will establish bonds between her lab at Ohio State, a local Columbus K-12 school and her alma mater, Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.

Locke joined The Ohio State University College of Engineering in 2015. Prior to Ohio State, she held a position at the Alcoa Technical Center, the R&D facility for Alcoa, Inc. She earned her bachelor’s in physics from Wittenberg University and her PhD in materials science and engineering from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.

contributions from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering