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Gao Huajian
Distinguished University Professor
School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
College of Engineering

Huajian Gao received his B.S. from Xian Jiaotong University in 1982, and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Harvard in 1984 and 1988, respectively. His spent his academic career at Stanford (1988-2002), Max Planck Institute for Metals Research (2001-2006), Brown (2006-2019) and NTU (2019-present). His research has been focused on the understanding of basic principles that control mechanical properties and behaviors of materials in both engineering and biological systems. He has been elected to the US National Academy of Sciences and US National Academy of Engineering. His major awards include the Rodney Hill Prize from the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, one of the highest honors in his field.

Research Statement

Huajian Gao developed theories and made fundamental discoveries that laid the foundation for nanomechanics of engineering and biological systems, a new field he helped create during the past three decades. His research covers a wide range of topics, including fracture mechanics, thin film mechanics, plasticity, indentation size effect, stress assisted diffusion, dynamic fracture, mechanics of hierarchically structured biological materials, biological adhesion, cell mechanics, endocytosis, cell-nanomaterials interaction, membrane targeting antimicrobials, mechanics of hierarchical nanotwinned materials, and mechanical degradation in lithium ion batteries.  His work aims to redefine the modern frontiers of mechanics research.

Research One-liner

Gao does mechanics research related to new materials, energy and health technologies.


W.D. Nix and H.J. Gao, “Indentation Size Effects in Crystalline Materials: A Law for Strain Gradient Plasticity,” 1998, Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids, Vol. 46, pp. 411-425. DOI: 10.1016/S0022-5096(97)00086-0 (This paper provided the foundation to understand the size effects in nanoindentation measurements used in both academia and industry to characterize micro-/nanoscale mechanical properties of materials, and is by far the highest cited papers among all 12,000 papers published in mechanical engineering journals in 1998.)

H.J. Gao, B.H. Ji, I.L. Jaeger, E. Arzt and P. Fratzl, “Materials Become Insensitive to Flaws at Nanoscale: Lessons from Nature,” 2003, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA, Vol. 100, pp. 5597–5600 (PNAS Cover Highlight). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0631609100 (This work and related papers uncovered the principles that govern the generic nanostructure of biological materials and are widely used to guide the design of biomimetic and bio-inspired materials.

H.J. Gao, W.D. Shi and L.B. Freund, “Mechanics of Receptor-Mediated Endocytosis,” 2005, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA, Vol. 102 (27), pp. 9469-9474 (PNAS Cover Highlight). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0503879102 (This paper presented the first theory of receptor mediated endocytosis, which led to a series of subsequent work on cell interaction with nanomaterials, inducing a length-dependent toxicity mechanism of critical health concern in the age of nanotechnology.)

Latest Projects

“Topological Design of Tough Multi-functional 2D Materials”, NSF, collaboration with Prof. Jun Lou, Rice University.

“In-situ Diagnostics of Coupled Electrochemical-Mechanical Properties of Solid Electrolyte Interphases on Lithium Metal for Rechargeable Batteries”, DOE/GM, collaboration with Prof. Brian Sheldon from Brown, Prof. Yue Qi from Michigan State Univ, Prof. YT Zheng from Univ of Kentucky and Dr. Xingcheng Xiao from GM.

“Deformation, Strength, Fatigue and Fracture of Gradient Nanostructured Metals”, NSF, collaboration with Prof. Sharvan Kumar from Brown Univ.

“Toughening Mechanisms in Ceramic Nanocomposites with One and Two Dimensional Reinforcements”, DOE, collaboration with Prof. Brian Sheldon and Prof. Nitin Padture from Brown Univ.

Advice to young researchers

Work on an important problem and keep at it!

Other affiliation(s)

Expert Areas
Mechanics of Materials, Solid Mechanics

Research Interests

Research Category
Engineering & Technology
Research Sub-category
Materials Science & Engineering, Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Nanotechnology & Nano-Science
NISTH Assigned Topic Groupings
Tele-health, medicine, rehab & therapeutics
Affiliated Sustainable Development Goals
GOAL 3: GOOD HEALTH AND WELL-BEING – Ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages is essential to sustainable development.
GOAL 7: AFFORDABLE AND CLEAN ENERGY – Energy is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity.
GOAL 9: INDUSTRY, INNOVATION, AND INFRASTRUCTURE – Investments in infrastructure are crucial to achieving sustainable development.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.
Last Updated
16 Apr 2020
Last Updated
13 Sep 2020