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Second NSF grant to advance Zhao's magnetic soft materials R&D

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

NSF recently 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.”

Renee ZhaoEarlier 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.

“The two grants will facilitate the investigation of the mechanical behavior of the magnetic soft materials,” Zhao said. "The projects 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.”

Magentic soft materials are composites with hard-magnetic particles embedded in soft matrices. 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.

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.

In June, Zhao will begin the three-year project, studying the micromechanics of the magneto-mechanical actuation of hard-magnetic soft active materials, a new group of soft active materials that can be activated rapidly, reversibly, and remotely. Due to the relatively new development of these materials, the understanding of how the microscopic behavior drives the macroscopic material actuation remains unknown. This project will provide new knowledge on how particle-particle and particle-matrix interactions can contribute individually and collectively to the actuation by using a micromechanics approach. 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.