College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Lee receives NSF CAREER award to research how salt solution structure changes affect final crystal formation

Jonghyun Lee

Jonghyun Lee

John Jonghyun Lee, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for research to identify the concentration-dependent structural evolution of pre-nucleation clusters (PNCs) in aqueous salt solutions as well as the influence of solution structure on the crystallization pathways and the final crystal structure.

The CAREER Award is the NSF’s most prestigious honor to support junior faculty.

Lee’s CAREER project is “Unveiling the structure and stability of prenucleation clusters and their roles in crystallization pathway and final crystal structure.” The award’s total value is $660,224 beginning March 1, 2024 for an estimated five-year period.

Lee and his research team aim to decipher how the structure of salt solutions changes as their concentration increases and how this structure affects the final crystal formation. To overcome research challenges, a levitation technique and powerful X-ray and neutron scattering will be combined, collaborating with Argonne National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science.

The long-term project goal is to develop a predictive framework to anticipate and control the multi-pathway and multi-step crystallization in various aqueous solutions to obtain desired microstructures in the final crystal products. The proposed research will lead to a vertical-step advancement toward clarifying and explaining the mechanism of complex crystallization in electrolyte solutions and its influence on the final crystal structure.

Lee’s work has broad applications affecting various aspects of our everyday lives in industries such as batteries, fertilizers, foods and pharmaceuticals.

As part of his CAREER project, a consortium will be formed as an educational platform to promote inclusion in the STEM field, educate young scientists and engineers, and share findings with K-12 students, teachers, and parents in Iowa through existing outreach programs led by Iowa State University.

The project is jointly funded by NSF’s Division of Materials Research (DMR) and the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

Lee holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering from University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Inha University. His research interests include containerless processing (electrostatic/electromagnetic levitation); nucleation and crystallization in salt solutions, colloidal suspensions, biominerals, and proteins; thermophysical and thermomechanical properties of metals and ceramics; transport phenomena in molten metals and ceramics; high-temperature materials; metal additive manufacturing; finite element analysis; and computation fluid dynamics.