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ODU's Julie Hao Receives Two NSF Grants for Research

Julie (Zhili) Hao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in Old Dominion University's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, has received two six-figure grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue her groundbreaking work with MicroElectricalMechanical Systems (MEMS) resonators.

Last fall, Hao was awarded a, three-year, $342,762 grant by the Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) division at NSF for research into the design of high-performance, robust MEMS resonators.

And this month, Hao received a two-year, $149,455 grant from NSF's Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) for an education project involving the behavior of MEMS devices.

"I have been working on this topic for a long time," said Hao, who has been at ODU for three years. "Finally, this grant came in. I'm grateful because NSF recognized my research as significant and important to the field."

In fact, Hao's grant proposal was what's known as unsolicited. NSF often asks for research proposals on particular topics, but the federal agency also has a category of grant proposals - far tougher to achieve - where NSF believes the research is worthy of support, despite not specifically asking for the pitch.

MEMS resonators are of particular interest to research agencies because of their many applications in society. Resonators are used in real-time referencing, meaning they can perform a certain command at a precise time interval.

They are also used in signal selection, such as choosing a radio frequency traveling through the air.

Finally, they are used to detect and calculate motion on a three-dimensional axis, making them necessary components of devices from vehicle airbags to Nintendo WII controllers.

The CMMI grant was earned in collaboration with Gene Hou, a mechanical engineering professor at ODU, and Darrin Young, a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at Case Western Reserve University.

The primary focus of the research is on developing methods to provide resonator structures with high-quality factors (Q-factors, the most critical design parameter for the performance of MEMS resonators), and reduce the effect of fabrication uncertainties on performance variations.

The ultimate goal of the research project is to create effective methods to design MEMS resonators with high Q-factors and design robustness, eliminating the need for trial-and-error cycles.

The DUE education grant was awarded under the Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) program. This project is being done in tandem with Gwen Lee-Thomas, an assistant professor of educational leadership and counseling in ODU's Darden College of Education, and Frances Williams, a faculty member at Norfolk State University.

Currently, MEMS courses are offered at many universities. Because the course encompasses four traditional engineering themes (solid mechanics, dynamic systems, transduction mechanisms and electrical circuits), teaching the theory course has been extremely challenging.

The team's research is designed to create new learning materials and teaching strategies for MEMS undergraduate courses, including project-based modeling and simulation activities, as well as experimental modules on various MEMS devices.

Hao joined the ODU faculty in fall 2006. With her startup package and support from the college and university levels, she has established her MEMS research lab in Kaufman Hall and led her research group in conducting state-of-the-art research.

Hao's work is contributing to the university-wide vision of developing a leading research and education thrust in the field of micro/nanotechnology.

Batten College Dean Oktay Baysal is thrilled to have her on the faculty.

"Our college is building strength in engineering the extremely small-sized devices, that is, in micro-electromechanical systems, microfluidics, and nano-systems," Baysal said.

"We are very fortunate to have recruited several experts in these areas and built several state-of-the-art laboratories for them. Dr. Hao is one of the rising stars of this team. The novel ideas that she pursues are getting regional as well as national attention. A local company, Measurement Specialties Inc., has already shown interest in a potential collaboration."

This article was posted on: June 18, 2009

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