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Dec. 17, 2019

Award will help faculty member advance emerging field

A fluid mechanics researcher at Michigan State University will use a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, Award to advance the emerging field of active fluids.

Tong, or Tony, Gao is the 19th faculty member in the College of Engineering to receive an NSF CAREER Award since 2010. NSF CAREER Awards support junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research and education. It is among NSF’s most prestigious honors.

Gao received a $500,000 grant to look for ways to improve engineering devices for transporting fluids and particles. The five-year project will begin in 2020. Gao is an assistant professor of both mechanical engineering and computational mathematics, science and engineering at MSU.

Gao said the CAREER award research involves a class of liquid materials that hold potential for developing new materials and products.

“My goal is to learn how to manipulate active fluids by taking full advantage of their collective behaviors,” Gao said. “First, we need a quantitative understanding of the unusual material properties and transport mechanisms that these fluids exhibit. The project will build a computation framework for modeling, analysis and control of active fluids in complex microfluidic environments.”

Gao said the project will provide undergraduate and graduate student training, create K-12 outreach opportunities and support the development of a Virtual Reality package that will help interpret research results and enrich classroom teaching. The Virtual Reality package and demos will be available online to the general public, along with some of the open-source computation codes developed in the project, which will benefit both students and researchers in applied science and engineering.

Gao joined MSU in August 2015 to work on a diverse array of problems in fluid mechanics, biophysics and materials, with a particular focus on soft-matter physics. The essence of his research is studying novel fluid mechanics of dense microstructures immersed in liquid, such as swarming bacteria and self-assembling biopolymers.