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Professor Jen Locke wins NSF CAREER award


photo of Professor Jenifer Locke Ohio State

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering congratulates Jenifer Locke, Assistant Professor of Materials Science, for winning the coveted NSF CAREER award, one of the biggest awards given to a young faculty member by the National Science Foundation

The research

Professor Locke will be researching how the environment causes cracking and failure to be accelerated in aluminum-based alloys. Aluminum-based alloys are known to have a variable resistance to environment-assisted cracking that depends upon other elements present in the alloy. The award will drive research and education on why certain aluminum-based alloys are more resistant to the environment-induced degradation than others, which can inform more sustainable use of these and other metals and prevent failure. 

Dr. Locke explains, "Essentially we will be working to test a hypothesis that certain alloys' metallurgically controlled corrosion behavior (which is typically seen as bad) facilitates less aggressive crack tip conditions, allowing them to be inherently more resistant to environment-assisted cracking."

To test this hypothesis, Locke will be performing environment-assisted cracking experiments (experiments that involve corrosion and mechanical stressing at the same time) on model alloys that span the range of more resistant to less resistant based on the hypothesis. During these experiments, Locke will use an experimental technique developed in her lab lab under previous NSF funding to monitor the crack tip pH and correlate it to the resistance of each alloy type. 

The NSF CAREER funding will support a graduate student for five years, five years of REU (Research Experience of Undergraduates), and RET (Research Experience for Teachers) participants. The combined team will work on research to develop corrosion-related demos, which will be accompanied by custom-made videos to teach the community about corrosion and its relation to sustainability. 

The results

Her research will be used to improve the performance and long-term sustainable use of metals. Professor Locke cites the research as a function for learning why some alloys are inherently better and foresees the creation of new, more resilient materials.

Beginner's Locke?

A young faculty member can win a NSF CAREER award one time and has three chances to apply. This was Professor Locke's first time applying for the award. Call it beginner's luck or an opportunity to better understand the behaviors of alloys at the hands of a faculty member expertly versed in corrosion; it's a win for materials science, the environment, and Ohio State.

Ohio State continues to justify its rank as a world leader in corrosion-related research, which is hosted in the department's Fontana Corrosion Center. We are known around the world for leading research in this area thanks to faculty members like Jerry FrankelRudy Buchhiet and their predecessors. This NSF CAREER award illustrates that the young faculty in the Fontana Corrosion Center and Department of Materials Science and Engineering are maintaining this high quality of fundamental research.

On what the NSF CAREER award means to me and my career

"This is one of the biggest awards a young faculty member can achieve, and it is so affirming. Sometimes being a tenure-track professor, spouse, and mom can beat you down…as all working moms know. When working on this proposal, my son and I both got sick. I thought about scrapping it and trying again next year. I pushed through, woke up at 5AM during a family vacation to work on my proposal so I would not miss a moment of quality time with my kids, and I WON the award! This win affirms that all the hard days were worth it and that I can be a successful researcher, teacher, and mom simultaneously."

Giving back. Paying forward.

Another rewarding aspect to Locke's NSF CAREER award is that it allows her to give back to her undergraduate institution, Wittenberg University. Through the RET program, she is partnering with the Physics Department at Wittenberg, where Jenifer got her academic start, and Professor Elizabeth George to sponsor an undergraduate student from Wittenberg University in her lab every year. Many physics students at Wittenberg University, including Professor Locke and her spouse, want to become engineers but do not necessarily have the ability to work in a large engineering research lab. This partnership will allow someone like Jenifer, or someone who wants to go into education only, to engage in large academic engineering research. 

I’m really excited to start this partnership with Wittenberg University! - Professor Jennifer Locke, PhD

At Ohio State

photo of Jenifer Locke Ohio State Professor
Professor Jenifer Locke loves the opportunity to engage in learning every day at Ohio State, "I get to teach. I get to learn through research. I get to learn from discussions with other faculty and researchers in my field, and I get to help others learn more about themselves and their passions!"

Faculty like Professor Jenifer Locke embody the spirit of Ohio State University and support the mission of the college. She enriches the lives of students through her lessons in the classroom and by personal example, and the research she and her team will yield complement the focus of the college.  


Read more

Locke earns five-year, $530K NSF CAREER award

College of Engineering, February 6, 2020