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Ohio State ADVANCE 2020 Faculty Spotlight: Hanna Cho, PhD

Posted: November 19, 2020



Hanna Cho, PhD
Associate Professor
Micro/Nano Multiphysical Dynamics Laboratory
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE)
College of Engineering

It has been an outstanding couple of years for you, Hanna.  You recently received an NSF Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) award.  This year alone, you received a Lumley Research Award, your first patent was issued and you were promoted to Associate Professor.  Congratulations all around!

Tell us about your innovative research in the Micro/Nano Multiphysical Dynamics Laboratory.

My lab is interested in various multiphysical problems at micro/nanoscales. We mainly aim to advance the micro/nano technology based on the firm fundamental understanding about micro/nano system’s mechanical characteristics; and also try to address fundamental questions in diverse areas of biology, energy, and materials by applying the advanced micro/nano technology as a tool to facilitate our research.

What are the requirements for the PFI award and how will this award advance your research?

NSF-PFI supports the process of transferring the technology derived from NSF-funded research. Thus, the first requirement is having at least one NSF-funded project (or NSF I-Corps) and the next important requirement is that the new technology developed through the funding has a potential for commercialization.

Fortunately enough, the first grant I was funded after starting my career was from NSF. Through the NSF project, my team successfully invented a new mechanical probe for Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), which can significantly enhance AFM for better material characterizations. For AFM measurements of “multi-physical” properties of a sample, the current design of “single-body” probes is not really ideal. To address this issue, we changed the probe design to a “multi-body” system by integrating a small probe inside the main probe, enabling multi-physical material characterizations with very simple operation by any AFM users. Even though my team successfully demonstrated the efficacy of this new design through this project, the tedious fabrication process was one of the main limiting factors in transferring the technology.

Thus, NSF-PFI has supported to develop a batch manufacturing process, and we recently completed our first batch fabrication. Now, we are working with industry partners and other AFM experts to test our design under their own experimental settings.

What’s next after the PFI?

I am working closely with TCO to license this technology to industry partners. I am also considering options to move on to the second phase of PFI (PFI Research Partnership) or SBIR with an industry partner.

Is this the path that you envisioned for your career?

To be honest, my answer is no. Before working with TCO for the patent disclosure, I was naïve enough to think the patent as another form of journal publication. After my first patent disclosure, I got tremendous support from TCO which made me think about the commercialization of technology. Since then, I have learned about this new pathway by completing three-day Customer Learning Lab run by Rev1 and a semester-long REACH for Commercialization Workshop. Indeed, these programs changed my mindset about the potential of my research outcomes. I really appreciate all the great people involved in organizing these superb programs and would recommend these programs to any researchers (even slightly) interested in the commercialization.

Congratulations on your promotion to Associate Professor!  What advice would you give to your younger self or to other women faculty about career advancement?

Thanks! I am not sure if I could be the person who can give advice to other women faculty including even younger myself. I just wish to give a big hug to all women starting their career, especially in STEM. When I started my career in MAE at OSU in 2015, I was the only woman assistant professor in my big MAE department with over 70 faculty members. You may not even imagine the pressure I felt at that time. I felt as if I had been representing the women in our department, all other people would have been judging my performance for every single detail, and my failure would have resulted in taking opportunities away from other young women. I was really afraid of my failure in any kind. Later, I learned that this feeling is not only for me but is shared with many other women in STEM, even who already have established careers, and knowing it helped me relieved from this pressure. You’re not alone, just be yourself, that is much more than good enough.

Category : General