With her research area focusing on experimental soft condensed matter physics and biophysics, Ashkar is the first faculty hire for the department in the area of Economic and Sustainable Materials, one of the strategic growth areas for Virginia Tech and identified as an area of institutional excellence by the Provost’s Office. She also is an affiliate member of the Center for Soft Matter and Biological Physics and the Macromolecules Innovation Institute.
Before joining Virginia Tech, Ashkar was a Clifford G. Shull Fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where she was developing a new platform for exploring the effect of local curvature in biomimetic lipid membranes using nano-patterned thermo-responsive polymer scaffolds.
Prior to that, she held a joint postdoctoral position at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the University of Maryland at College Park. During her postdoctoral scholarship, her research was focused on understanding collective nanoscale dynamics in polymer nanocomposites and biomembranes, which are critical to the technology and biopharmaceutics industry.
An expert in neutron scattering, Ashkar will continue to use the unique properties of neutrons to explore the nanoscale structure and dynamics of soft materials, including polymeric systems and biomimetic lipid membranes. By combining nanoscale information with macroscopic material properties, she will explore how molecular arrangements and motions can be used to tailor materials with well-defined performance. Mapping out structural and dynamical hierarchy from molecular to macroscopic scales is key to understanding the physics of soft matter and designing novel functional materials, Ashkar said.
Ashkar earned a bachelor’s degree from the Lebanese University in 2003, a master’s degree from the American University of Beirut in 2007, and her Ph.D. from Indiana University in 2012, all in Physics.
Ashkar is one of 22 faculty members to join the College of Science and the Virginia Tech School of Neuroscience this academic year.