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Viterbi AME Faculty Member Is Pioneer Award Winner in New NSF Program

"Broadening Participation Research Initiation Grants in Engineering" competition just began this year

June 26, 2008 — Andrea Hodge has received a $175,000 two-year BRIGE grant from the National Science Foundation to improve control of a sophisticated manufacturing process used to synthesize thin films of various materials.

BRIGE, an acronym for "Broadening Participation Research Initiation Grants in Engineering " is a new program initiated just this year by the NSF's Directorate for Engineering. Hodge's grant is one of the very first of its kind.

Andrea Hodge
Andrea Hodge: moving beyond trial and error in magnetron sputtering technology
BRIGE goals, according to the program synopsis, include "broadening participation to all engineers including members from groups underrepresented in the engineering disciplines... to increase the diversity of researchers who apply for and receive ENG funding to initiate research programs early in their careers, and expand the population of role models who will interact with an increasingly diverse student population, the workforce of the future."

Hodge is an assistant professor in the Viterbi School Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. Her award is for the program maximum, $175,000 for two years.

"Andrea was recruited under very stiff competition from other top universities and we are grateful that she chose to come to the Viterbi School," said AME Chair Michael Kassner. "We expected a fine performance from her, and we look forward to even greater achievements."

Hodge said the goal of her research is to learn to better understand and control  stresses produced during the process of  "magnetron sputtering,"  a versatile physical vapor deposition technique which allows for the coating of almost all elements in the periodic table.  

"Even though sputtering is a commonly used industrial technique," she says, "current practices rely mostly on trial and error approaches which significantly limit its broader use.  By using a combinatorial design of equipment and experiments, we will enhance the general knowledge in sputtering deposition systems, which will lead to the processing of materials such as multilayers and nano-grained films."

She hopes success "will allow for the processing of highly engineered microstructures which can be used for innovative applications in the fields of materials science, nanotechnology and renewable energy," and even perhaps allow scaling up the process for use in larger-than-micro applications.

Hodge came to the Viterbi School last year from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, where she was a materials scientist.  She is a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and a faculty member in the USC Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program.