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Hsiao receives NSF CAREER Award

The belltower on a cloudy day

Lilian Hsiao, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University, has received a Faculty Early Career Development award, also known as the CAREER Award, from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award is one of the highest honors given by the NSF to young faculty members in science and engineering.

Hsiao will receive $648,554 over five years for her proposal “Elastohydrodynamic lubrication of soft patterned interfaces.”

Haptic technology creates the perception and experience of touch by applying forces to a user. It is used commonly in applications such as remote surgery and robotics. In some applications, the forces are generated as two surfaces slide over each other, lubricated by a thin film of liquid between the surfaces.

The proposal focuses on elastohydrodynamic lubrication (EHL), which refers to the special case where the two surfaces are deformable and the forces on them depend both on their deformation and the flow of lubricating fluid between them. In many cases of interest, the surfaces are not smooth, but, instead, have patterns embedded in them. Although the goal of haptic engineering is to produce forces exerted on the length scale of human fingers, the origin of the EHL forces associated with fluid-solid friction on very thin lubricating layers is not well understood, which makes it a challenge to recapitulate the full haptic perception for humans.

This project comprises experiments and computer simulations that will determine the various forces that occur in EHL for well-defined model geometries that contain the essential features of haptic applications. The results of the work will aid practitioners in the design of haptic technology that more realistically reproduces sensations of touch.

Hsiao’s project will also include activities to stimulate interest in fluid mechanics and soft matter among the public through interactive citizen science sessions, through virtual perception demonstrations for science camp participants and through instruction in haptic applications and soft matter for undergraduates.

Hsiao’s research interests lie in soft materials and complex fluids. She earned her bachelor’s and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Michigan, respectively. She joined the NC State faculty in 2016.

In 2019, the American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded her a Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences, given to researchers who “have made extraordinary contributions through their research programs and demonstrate a commitment to move their fields forward.”