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Prof. Aeriel Leonard receives Young Investigator Award by Office of Naval Research

Dr. Leonard
Dr. Aeriel Leonard loads a fatigue specimen into a load frame.

The past year has been a whirlwind marked by a new job, relocation, and research milestones for Dr. Aeriel Leonard. The materials science and engineering professor just completed her inaugural semester teaching at The Ohio State University and capped it off with being awarded for her first submitted proposal.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) Young Investigators Program is designed for "academic scientists and engineers" who are in the nascent stage of their higher education career — whether in instructing, researching or a combination thereof. Six departments within the Department of the Navy's Science and Technology research program support research spanning from algorithms to armor and falling within the spectrum of basic research to "advanced technology development."

Leonard's interest in the field of materials science can be traced back to high school.

"In high school, I was a huge nerd and was really competitive in the science fair," Leonard shared. "My tenth-grade project involved looking at fatigue behavior in high-strength aluminum alloys. It's funny because I have been studying fatigue behavior for 15 years. It has always felt natural for me."

That natural tendency to research, discover, and apply has earned her a research package worth almost $800K. The three-year project begins in July and includes procurement funds for an Ultrasonic Fatigue (UF) System that can be used ex-situ and in-SEM for real-time analysis. The UF system is the first of its kind in Ohio and only the second system in the U.S. featuring in-SEM UF.

Leonard's project, "Systematic Study on Slip Activity and Plastic Strain Accumulation in Wire-Arc Additive Manufactured Nickel-Aluminum-Bronze Alloys," will use a combination of advanced characterization techniques – such as synchrotron-based X-ray analysis, digital image correlation, electron back scatter diffraction, and in-situ loading – to link the sensitivity of cyclic deformation (fatigue) mechanisms to microstructural influences in Nickel-Aluminum-Bronze (NAB) manufactured via wire arc additive manufacturing (AM). The information from these studies will inform the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense on how to qualify AM NAB parts and components by understanding how these AM microstructures influence fatigue behavior and life and the crack growth behavior in both corrosive and non-corrosive environments.

The majority of the research will be conducted in Leonard's lab, located in the new Mars G. Fontana Laboratories — part of the college's $59.1 million, 124,000 square feet Biomedical and Materials Engineering Complex that opened in autumn 2020. The research will extend to the college's Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis (CEMAS) and the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME). Two materials science and engineering graduate students will complete the research team and "gain a unique skill set that will help advance their careers after graduate school," says Leonard.

"Being awarded the Young Investigator Award really means a lot to me," Leonard continued. "This was the first proposal I ever wrote, so it feels really good that the committee at ONR believed in my research ideas and goals. I get to perform cutting-edge research that will advance our understanding of a very complex alloy system."

A strong faculty mentorship program prompted Dr. Leonard to draft a successful ONR YIP proposal. She credits Ohio State's Dr. Michael Mills, Dr. Glenn Daehn, Dr. Maryam Ghazasaedi, and Dr. Jenifer Locke for guiding the maiden proposal-writing voyage.

Leonard appreciates the value of hard work, a good challenge, and opportunities ahead.

“As a black woman from rural Alabama, I always want to show my community that anything is possible. All you must do is keep pushing forward and never lose faith in yourself," Leonard said.

Locally, it’s a message worth sharing with all Buckeye engineering students and early-career faculty members.

Leonard earned her doctoral degree in materials science and engineering from the University of Michigan and a B.S. in metallurgical and materials engineering from the University of Alabama.

2021 Young Investigator Award Recipients

Applicants of ONR YIP must meet the following qualifications:

  • must be in their first or second full-time tenure track (or tenure-track-equivalent academic appointment)

  • must have received doctorate or equivalent degree in past seven years

  • must show exceptional promise for doing creative research

By Libby Culley, Department of Materials Science and Engineering