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Leonard’s NSF award focuses on increasing magnesium alloy applications

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Aeriel Leonard in her lab
Assistant Professor Aeriel Leonard

Aeriel Leonard, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, has earned a five-year, $658,355 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation for her research on understanding the mechanisms of nucleation and growth during recrystallization in magnesium alloys.

The CAREER award is the 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. Leonard’s project is funded by NSF’s Metal and Metallic Nanostructure Program.

Compared to other structural metals, magnesium alloys show great promise in vehicle weight reduction due to their inherent lightness, great strength-to-weight ratio, relatively low cost and good castability. Despite these advantages, the use of magnesium alloys is limited in the automotive industry due to their poor formability and low ductility, meaning it may easily break under stress.

“We want to understand how we can improve the ductility of this specific alloy by reducing or removing the strong crystallographic texture that develops during thermomechanical processing because it has the potential to transform the U.S. transportation industry,” said Leonard. “If you were to reduce the weight of an automobile by 10%, you would get approximately 6-8% improvement in fuel efficiency. So not only is it advantageous for a consumer, it's also good for the environment, because then you reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Additionally, magnesium is biocompatible and biodegradable, making it a promising material for temporary stints or implants in the body for bone healing, which eliminates the need for secondary surgeries.

“It's a very good material for those applications over things like titanium, mainly because magnesium has properties that are very similar to your bone,” added Leonard. “There are a lot of opportunities for advancing technologies in many different areas, but because of this low ductility, we really are limited in our use of magnesium.”

These limitations have been historically linked to the microstructure that develops during thermomechanical processing and subsequent heat treatments, but the mechanisms that influence this behavior are still unknown. Leonard and her team have designed a multi-modal methodology that combines in-situ techniques with advanced electron microscopy and 3D high-energy X-ray based analysis to understand the multi-scale interactions at interfaces associated with crystalline grains and deformation structures such as twins and shear bands. The goal is to understand how these interfaces control the mechanisms of recrystallization and crystallographic texture weakening in magnesium alloys.

“When you understand the mechanisms that govern microstructural development, then you can design the appropriate alloy composition and processing path,” said Leonard. “And that opens up the avenue for creating and developing other magnesium alloys that we haven't even thought about, compositions that we haven't even considered to get an improvement in ductility.”

Leonard’s team will utilize The Ohio State University’s Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis (CEMAS) to conduct the research. They will also establish several programs and initiatives that integrate the scientific research outcomes with their goal of broadening participation of under-represented and marginalized groups in materials science and engineering. The CAREER award will support the development of a workshop focused on introducing concepts and opportunities in materials science to undergraduate students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU), design and implement a cross-discipline course aimed at understanding the human cost of material-related engineering failures and implement a program providing resources in STEM to elementary school students within the Columbus area.

Leonard joined Ohio State’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 2021. She earned her bachelor’s in metallurgical and materials engineering from the University of Alabama, and her master’s and PhD in materials science and engineering from University of Michigan. She received the Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research in 2021 and the Early Career Research Program Award from the Department of Energy in 2022.

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu