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Engineering Researchers Named ONR Young Investigators

Josh Kacher and Wenshan Cai were awarded the prestigious grants.

Feb 22, 2017

Two College of Engineering researchers, Josh Kacher and Wenshan Cai, were named Young Investigators and received large grants from the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The Young Investigator Program (YIP) recognizes early-career scientists and engineers “who show exceptional promise for doing creative research,” according to the ONR website. The grant they receive is often regarded as a milestone in the early careers of engineers who show unusual promise.

Kacher (left), an assistant professor of Materials Science and Engineering, was recognized for his work towards understanding material behaviors in a variety of extreme environments. Specifically, his work employs advanced electron microscopy techniques in order to study and develop corrosion resistant materials.

“Corrosion prevention and maintenance cost the Navy billions of dollars every year,” Kacher said. “Receiving the ONR award is a huge honor and will allow me to pursue higher risk experiments, such as mapping the progression of corrosion fronts at the nanoscale using in situ liquid cell transmission electron microscopy experiments.”

Applicants to the Young Investigator Program must submit a proposal to one of the ONR’s six departments within their Science and Technology organization. Kacher’s proposal was titled “Correlating Microstructure to Corrosion Susceptibility using a Multiscale Electron Microscopy Approach” and was submitted to the Corrosion Control department.

Another recipient from the CoE was Cai (right), who is an associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (with a joint appointment in Materials Science and Engineering). His principal research area is micro- and nanophotonic materials and devices. His proposal was concentrated in a field where he has made significant strides, and was titled “Hot-Carrier-Induced Nonlinear Optical Processes in Photonic Metamaterials.” It was submitted to the department of Ship Systems and Engineering Research.

Cai believes that his work is closely aligned with the mission of the ONR to cultivate innovations in naval science, and that it will propel further developments in electromagnetic maneuver warfare, power and energy.

“I am honored to be recognized as an ONR Young Investigator,” Cai said. “I am glad and proud for bringing this award to Georgia Tech, which I consider to be my lifelong academic home and will serve to the best of my ability.”

The YIP was created in 1985, and it is a selective program that recognizes researchers “whose scientific pursuits show outstanding promise for supporting the Department of Defense, while also promoting their professional development,” according an ONR press release. These individuals are supported through a grant of $510,000 or more that is paid over the course of three years.

In 2017, 33 people from institutions of higher learning from all over the United States were awarded grants, for a total of $16 million allocated. The money can be used to fund laboratory equipment, graduate student stipends and other expenses.

The opportunity to work with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps is coveted, and 360 applicants were in the running this year. Candidates are selected based on past experience, technical merit, the potential their research has for breakthrough and their commitment to their institution.