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

Posted: May 12, 2021

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 of 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”.1  

Professor 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 science fair. 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.”

photo of Professor Aeriel Leonard Ohio State Materials Science and Engineering
Dr. Aeriel Leonard loads a fatigue specimen into a load frame.

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.

Dr. 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 the fatigue behavior and life as well as the crack growth behavior in both corrosive and non-corrosive environments.

The majority of the research will be conducted in Leonard’s lab, which is located in the new Mars G. Fontana Laboratories — part of college’s $59.1 million, 124,000 square feet Biomedical and Materials Engineering Complex that opened in autumn 2020. 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 skillset that will help advance their careers after graduate school,” says Leonard.

“Being awarded the Young Investigator Award really means a lot to me. 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 in drafting a successful ONR YIP proposal. She credits Ohio State’s Dr. Michael Mills, Dr. Glenn Daehn, Dr. Maryam Ghazasaedi, and Dr. Jenifer Locke for providing guidance throughout the maiden proposal-writing voyage.

Dr. Aeriel Leonard appreciates the value of hard work, a good challenge and opportunities to be taken. “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.” Locally, it’s a message worth sharing to 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.

Dr. Aeriel Leonard's areas of research expertise are

  • in-situ synchrotron and electron microscopy techniques for mechanical behavior and microstructural evolution
  • lightweight materials (Al, Mg)
  • alloy adaption for additive manufacturing
  • integrated computational materials engineering 

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering congratulates Dr. Aeriel Leonard for being awarded the ONR YIP award. Her research in AM microstructures represents much more than materials science; it is the holistic narrative imagined, then realized, by those who persevere with passion.  


List of the 38 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


1 Office of Naval Research Science & Technology. Retrieved from Accessed May 11, 2021.


By Libby Culley, Communications   |   Department of Materials Science and Engineering   |