HEMI APL Seed Grants Awarded

The Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute (HEMI) and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) Research and Exploratory Development (RED) mission area have awarded two, $50,000 seed grants. These seed grants promote pioneering research and collaboration between HEMI and JHUAPL RED.

Paulette Clancy, professor, and head of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, teamed with Nam Le, staff scientist at JHUAPL RED, on a project titled, “Towards Proton Radiation-Resistant Perovskite Solar Cell Materials for Space Applications.” The goal of the project is to understand what defects are formed when energetic particles interact with metal halide perovskites (MHPs), as these can lead to performance degradation and thus limit the viability of these promising solar cells. Their low cost, lightweight, and simple manufacturing process make them an ideal candidate for in-space manufacturing goals of future space missions.

The second seed grant is awarded to the team of Jaafar El-Awady, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Christopher Stiles, senior staff scientist in JHUAPL RED. Their project is titled, “Developing a Multiscale/Multiphysics Framework to Support the Ecofriendly Mitigation of Ice Loss from the Arctic and Greenland Glaciers and Icesheets.” The project’s objectives are to create a mechanistic-based multiscale computational framework that can predict the mechanics of ice deformation under creep loading, as well as the effect of ice nucleation proteins on the structure and mechanical properties of the formed ice. This study could result in an environmentally friendly framework for mitigating ice mass loss in Greenland and Antarctica.


HEMI Fellows awarded DURIP grants

Ryan Hurley, assistant professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Kit Bowen, the E. Emmet Reid Professor of Chemistry in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, were awarded Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) grants. DURIP enables university faculty to procure major equipment needed to perform cutting-edge foundational science research relevant to national defense.

Hurley will use his grant to obtain equipment needed to build an extreme-pressure triaxial compression apparatus. This will enable his research group to conduct in-situ studies of geomaterial deformation mechanisms. Bowen’s grant will support his work exploring the role of cluster reactivity in destroying chemical warfare agents.

The Department of Defense awarded a total of $59 million to 147 university researchers under DURIP. More than 500 proposals were submitted, resulting in a highly competitive selection process. DURIP is jointly administered by the Army Research Office, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Office of Naval Research through a merit competition.

HEMI Fellows chair international multi-scale materials modeling conference

After a two-year delay due to COVID-19, the International Conference on Multiscale Materials Modeling (MMM) was held in October 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. Johns Hopkins University’s Jaafar El-Awady, professor of mechanical engineering, and Somnath Ghosh, M.G. Callas chair and professor of civil and systems engineering, served as chair and co-chair respectively. 

A forum for researchers from academia, national laboratories, and industrial research facilities worldwide with interdisciplinary research backgrounds including mechanics, materials, biomechanics, mechanobiology, advanced manufacturing, mathematics, and computational sciences, the MMM conference is held biennially. It was first held in 2002 in London and the location rotates sequentially between North America, Europe, and Asia.  

The MMM conference is highlighted by four distinguished plenary speakers and eight semi-plenary speakers. The technical program includes 27 technical symposia as well as a dedicated poster session. More than 750 individuals participated in the conference. Conference sponsors included: Johns Hopkins University, George Mason University, Georgetown University, the University of Maryland, and the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute.  

HEMI completes MEDE+ AI-M final technical review

KT Ramesh, the Alonzo G. Decker Professor of Science and Engineering and director of HEMI, recently co-chaired the final technical review of Materials in Extreme Dynamic Environments and Artificial Intelligence for Materials (MEDE+ AI-M) projects.  

These projects and their principal investigators include:   


  • Using artificial intelligence to accelerate the iterative materials design cycle by high-throughput microstructural characterization and rapid processing (Mark Foster, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering;) 
  • Acoustic signature and reconstruction of defect avalanches in metals (Jaafar El-Awady, associate professor of mechanical engineering;) 
  • Real-time monitoring of laser-material interactions (Steven Storck, Senior Materials Scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory;) 
  • Toward self-repairing devices: Data-directed design of active, hierarchical colloidal assembly and reconfiguration (Rebecca Schulman, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.) 


Researchers involved with each project used AI or machine learning (ML) techniques to examine a particular material and then compare their results with those obtained using  traditional methods. Initial results show that AI/ML techniques can be used to predict select material behavior and characteristics. These initial discoveries are expected to lead to future opportunities as HEMI researchers advance the science in this field.      

The MEDE+ AI-M projects were funded by a cooperative agreement with the DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory which facilitated collaboration. These projects accelerate material development for the Army’s emerging needs and demonstrate HEMI’s continued partnership with DEVCOM ARL.   

Matt Shaeffer wins 2022 Staff Leadership Award

Matt Shaeffer, senior staff engineer with the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute, received the 2022 Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) Leadership Award on Monday, July 11, 2022.

The annual Staff Recognition Awards provide WSE with an opportunity to recognize the hardworking and talented staff who advance the school’s mission, demonstrate superior leadership, and motivate and inspire those around them.  This year, 27 staff members were nominated for awards recognizing their outstanding service in support of the Whiting School’s educational and research activities.

To be eligible for the Leadership Award, staff members must demonstrate significant achievements and contributions to the department/center/institute and the school and/or university, show exemplary leadership and/or performance that goes above and beyond the expectations for their position, encourage the professional development and growth of their colleagues. and cultivate a culture of excellence and inclusion.

Matt obtained his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 2006 from Boston University and his M.S in Applied Biomedical Engineering from the JHU EP program in 2016. Matt is currently the senior staff engineer at the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute (HEMI), where he manages technical staff and develops facilities and programs that perform impact testing on protective materials, geologic materials and biological tissues. This includes the HyFIRE facility where materials can be impacted at speeds up to Mach 20 and the events can be characterized with high-speed imaging, spectroscopy, and flash radiography. He also leads the design of the new AIMD facility to implement AI strategies and high throughput techniques for materials development. Some of the biomechanics work he has done in HEMI include designing and building a small shock tube for dynamic inflation of porcine eyes and the design of a pendulum tester and sensors to evaluate the effects of impacts on the optical nerve in cadaver heads. Prior to working at HEMI, Matt tested construction materials for the National Association of Homebuilders.

This is the second consecutive year that a HEMI staff member has received the Leadership Award.

Sung Hoon Kang receives Hanwha Non-Tenured Faculty Award

Sung Hoon Kang, HEMI Fellow and assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been selected as a recipient of a Hanwha Non-Tenured Faculty Award.

The awards, given by Hanwha Solutions and Hanwha Total Energy, are designed to construct overseas R&D network and to expand a range of research and development, promotes the sharing and cooperative research and development of technology through mutual exchange from the early stages of research.

Kang received an award from the advanced materials division of Hanwha Solutions for his research in additive manufacturing technology using various new materials. He received his award on June 8th via an online ceremony.

HEMI researchers create lightweight material to improve military armor, automobile and aerospace parts

A team of Johns Hopkins University researchers have created energy-absorbing material that is lighter, absorbs more impact than metal, and is reusable.

The research team discovered that liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), a reusable and highly energy-absorbing material, can be incorporated into military armor and automobile and aerospace parts to increase their impact absorption capability. As part of its analysis, the research team reports its efforts to use LCEs to develop the lightweight energy-absorbing material in a recently published Advanced Materials article.

“Vicky Nguyen, another fellow in HEMI, informed me of liquid crystal elastomers, and we observed this material has a very good energy absorption capability, which increases at higher speeds, said senior author Sung Hoon Kang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and HEMI Fellow. “We continued examining liquid crystal elastomers, revisited my previous research about how geometric designs correlate with energy absorption, and discovered there is synergy between this material and geometry that enhances energy absorption capability.”

The inspiration for this research stems from Kang’s examination of how car bumpers absorb impact and previous work on meta-material that absorbs energy from impact. To address the current challenges of energy-absorbing materials, the research team investigated energy absorption behavior of a form-like LCE structures over a wide range of impact speeds by measuring their responses. Besides, they also applied computer simulations to help understand how the LCE material behavior and the geometry synergistically contributed to energy absorption.

Currently, Kang is cultivating a collaboration with other researchers and a helmet company to design, fabricate, and test next-generation helmets for the Department of Defense and athletes. Additionally, Kang and the research team are investigating approaches to further increase energy absorption of the material by incorporating an additional energy absorption mechanism.

The research team included: Kang, Thao (Vicky) Nguyen, professor and Marlin U. Zimmerman, Jr. Faculty Scholar at Johns Hopkins University; Christopher M. Yakacki, associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver; and Seung-Yeol Jeon, Beijun Shen, Nicholas Traugutt, Zeyu Zhu, and Lichen Fang, who are affiliated with the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute.

This research is supported in part by the Army Research Office (Grant Number W911NF-17-1-0165) and the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering Start-Up Fund.

HEMI Fellow Sung Hoon Kang draws inspiration from nature to design more efficient and resilient aerospace and automotive materials


When Sung Hoon Kang looks out his office window and sees a pigeon or a blue jay fly by, he sees a feat of engineering. A HEMI Fellow and assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering, Kang focuses his research on how nature—plants, animals, the human body—can provide inspiration for engineering breakthroughs. Through a four-year, roughly $600,000 Air Force grant, he is studying how the lightweight, adaptable, irregular structure of bird bones could provide a blueprint for more efficient and resilient aerospace and automotive materials.

An Engineer’s Quandary

When drawing up a new aerospace or automotive design, engineers face an inevitable push and pull, according to Kang. They want to build the vehicle to stand up to the worst-case scenario—hurricane-force winds, for example—leading them to use materials that are way sturdier than what’s necessary for the typical day-to-day. But such durability often comes with a hefty drawback. “Every addition of weight requires more money, less fuel efficiency, and a greater environmental effect,” Kang says.

That’s where our feathered friends come in. Birds’ bones are hollow, and yet they have an amazing capability to efficiently withstand force, Kang says. Moreover, their skeleton’s irregular internal structure minimizes the spread of damage when they are injured. Kang, along with a team of JHU students and Air Force researchers, is currently working on a proof of concept for a new, avian bone–inspired material.

“We thought, if we can adapt the capability of the natural system to get engineering materials to behave like our body or bird bones, we can prevent overdesign,” he says. “It’s a more sustainable and efficient approach that allows the system to adapt to those kinds of changes.”

Enhanced Adaptability

A bird’s bones—and even the bones inside the human body—can adapt in response to mechanical stress. Imagine a tennis player, Kang says. Over time, as the player exercises her forehand, the material density of the bone in her arm increases to allow it to withstand the mechanical load of the racket hitting the ball and apply more force to her hits.

An avian bone–inspired material used in a drone or airplane would similarly be able to adapt to changing conditions such as wind or rain. The hollow interior would act almost like a fuel tank, holding a metal solution. Electricity generated via applied force—a phenomenon called piezoelectricity—would convert the metal solution into a coating that could bolster an area on the wing that is being hit by particularly high winds, for example. The stronger the wind, the more coating will be formed.

“They can autonomously add more reinforcement where it’s needed and remove the material where not much force is applied. It’s mechanically efficient,” Kang says. “If there’s a material that can adapt to different loading conditions, we don’t have to put a huge amount of materials, or overly expensive ones. Essentially, this material can train itself such that it can still work for those changes in loading conditions.”

Strength in Imperfections

There’s even more magic to a swan’s skeletal structure. If you look at a cross section of a bird’s bone, you’ll find a porous, random design. Surprisingly, Kang says, that’s a good thing. “If you look at something like honeycomb, it’s a very regular structure,” he says. “But we actually learned that while a honeycomb’s structure is very efficient, if there’s damage, it can be catastrophic.”

With a gridlike structure, Kang explains, damage has an obvious path to follow. With a more random design, not so much. “Essentially, it slows down the propagation of damage so that it can potentially be localized,” he says. “It could mitigate critical failure to the system.”

HEMI researchers receive NSF funding to design sustainable plastics

Recycling plastic products is a challenge. Not only are a limited number of types of plastic recyclable, but because the recycling process also breaks down polymer chains and degrades the materials’ quality, many can only be recycled a few times. As a result, recycled plastics tend to be suitable for use only in low-value products such as single-use grocery bags.

A new type of plastic could change that. Using a four-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, a team led by a Whiting School engineer Thao Vicky Nguyen, HEMI Fellow and a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is developing an approach that promises to turn difficult-to-recycle plastics into a tougher material suitable for use in high-performance and high-value products. The grant is part of the National Science Foundation’s Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future program.

“Our goal is to yield a plastic material that is stronger and tougher than conventional recycled plastics and that can have the same consistent properties as traditional plastics,” said Nguyen. “We are hopeful that creating sustainable plastics will reduce the environmental impact of plastics production.”

The team’s material will be produced by melting and blending two common but difficult-to-recycle plastic polymers: polyethylene and isotactic polypropylene. The researchers are developing a computational, data-driven methodology called Materials Architected by Adaptive Processing, or MAAP, to design the microstructure of the blend and control its processing, ensuring the production of high-valued plastics with consistent strength and toughness properties.

The researchers note that their approach considers the variability of recycled plastic materials. For example, if plastic pellets from a recycling plant have significant impurities, the resulting polymer melt will be thinner. Their method should be able to adjust the temperature and pressure conditions of the processing line to produce a consistent blend.

Such an innovation will give plastics a second life; the recycled plastic created by MAAP will be exceptionally durable, meaning the material can be used in everything from appliances and construction products to personal protective equipment like body armor, adds Nguyen.

The team hopes MAAP will allow other researchers to turn recycled materials into plastic polymer blends with superior properties.

“One of the broader goals for the project is to develop a database to make materials data more accessible for everyone,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen, who leads the Mechanics of Soft Adaptive Materials Lab, is the team’s principal investigator. Co-principal investigators are Gretar Trygvasson, a professor and head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering; and David Elbert, an associate research scientist in the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute (HEMI).

The article originally appeared on the Hub >>

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