Richard D. James

Richard James

Richard D. James

Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering Mechanics


Akerman Hall
Room 119A
110 Union Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455


Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, John Hopkins University, 1979

Sc.B., Engineering, Brown University, 1974

Professional Background

Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Aerospace Engineering & Mechanics, University of Minnesota, 1998-Present

Professor, Aerospace Engineering & Mechanics, University of Minnesota, 1991-Present

Russell J. Penrose Professor, Aerospace Engineering & Mechanics, University of Minnesota, 2001-2011

Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering & mechanics, University of Minnesota, 1985-1991

Assistant Professor, Division of Engineering, Brown University, 1981-1985

Research Fellow in Mechanics and Thermodynamics, University of Minnesota, 1979-1980

Scientific & Professional Societies

  • SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics)
  • MRS (Materials Research Society)
Research Interests

UMN Experts Page

Richard James' main area of research is phase transformations in materials - especially shape memory and multiferrroic materials - at large and small scales. This involves the development of mathematical methods for the analysis of materials at atomic and continuum scales, especially the development of multiscale methods for understanding the relation between the behavior of materials on different scales. It also involves advanced methods of bulk synthesis and characterization of new materials in his laboratory, guided by theory. He is currently applying these ideas to the search for interesting materials in several areas:

  1. The search for new materials that combine two of the three properties - ferromagnetism, ferroelectricity, shape-memory - particularly by using a highly reversible phase transformation, or, in short, multiferroic materials by phase transformation.
  2. The search for new transforming materials with exceptionally low hysteresis and a high degree of reversibility, especially oxide materials with these properties (Oxides are brittle, and there is currently no reversible shape memory oxide.)
  3. The use of these multiferroic, phase-change materials in new kinds of energy conversion devices. In particular, members of his group recently discovered a new way to use these materials to convert heat to electricity.
  4. The prediction of properties of transforming materials and structures at very small scales. Part of this research involves the study of a remarkable phase transformation that occurs in the tail sheath of bacteriophage T4, a virus that attacks bacteria.
  5. The search for new nanostructures based on the concept of "objective structures". These are molecular structures composed of identical molecules such that corresponding molecules "see" the same environment up to orthogonal transformation. These structures have an intriguing relation to the common structures, whether crystalline of not, of most elements in the periodic table, and they are occur often also in biology, especially in viruses. They are also the natural structures to exhibit unusual properties like ferromagnetism, ferroelectricity, and other collective properties, and are especially amenable to methods of synthesis by the process of self-assembly.

Several other current projects extend these ideas to new areas of science and engineering: 
1.  Objective structures motivate the study of new group invariant solutions of Maxwell’s equations. With researchers from TU Munich we have recently found certain “twisted wave” solutions of Maxwell’s equations that interact with helical atomic structures with constructive/destructive interference and potentially could be used as a method of Xray analysis of the structure of helical materials. 
2.  We are developing methods to design morphing origami structures based on the use of ideas from the analysis of phase transformations. 
3.  Our work on hysteresis in phase transformations suggests new ways to understand the origins of magnetic hysteresis in soft magnetic materials.  We are using these ideas to design new soft magnetic alloys. 
4. We are also using ideas from the concept of objective structures to understand the dynamics of nanostructures and gases.  In particular we are developing the method of “objective molecular dynamics”, an exact simulation method for special classes of solutions of molecular dynamics.  Besides providing efficient simulations,  the method links to the Boltzmann equation and offers new insight into non-equilibrium statistical mechanics.


Teaching Subjects
AEM 2012 -- Dynamics
AEM 4581 -- Mechanics of Solids
AEM 5581 -- Mechanics of Solids
AEM 8541 -- Mechanics of Crystalline Solids
AEM 8595 -- Selected Topics in Mechanics and Materials

Honors and Awards

2019: Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship

2014: Theodore von Karman Prize, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), shared with Weinan E (Awarded at a 5 year Interval)

2009: Brown Engineering Alumni Medal, Brown University

2008: William Prager Medal, Society of Engineering Science

2008: Warner T. Koiter Medal, American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)

2008: Co-advisor (with P. H. Leo) to Liping Liu, winner of the Best Dissertation Award in the Physical Sciences and Engineering at the University of Minnesota

2007: Honorary Consultant Professorship, Hauzhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China

2006-2007: Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Award 

2002: John von Nuemann Professorship, TU Munich Mary Shepard B. Upson Visiting Chair, Cornell University College of Engineering

1999: Rothschild Visiting Professor

1998: Cambridge University Best Paper award, ASME/SPIE Smart Materials Distinguished McKnight University Professor 

1997: Fellow, American Academy of Mechanics

1993: Featured Review (in Mathematical Review) Member, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton ,Term 1

1991: George Taylor Distinguished Research Award, Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota

1976-1978: IBM Fellow, the John Hopkins University 

Selected Publications

Richard D. James, Symmetry, invariance and the structure of matter.  Proc. International Congress of Mathematicians, (2018).

Fan Feng, Paul Plucinsky, and Richard D. James. Phase transformations and compatibility in helical structures, Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids, 131 (2019): 74-95.

Richard D. James, Materials from mathematics, AMS Current Events Bulletin. Bull. Am. Math. Soc., 56(1) (January, 2019).

Ashley Bucsek, William Nunn, Bharat Jalan and Richard D. James, Energy conversion by phase transformation in the small-temperature-difference regime. Annual Review of Materials Research, 50 (2020), 283-318.

Huan Liu, Paul Plucinsky, Fan Feng and Richard D. James, Origami and materials science, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 379, May 2021.

Hanlin Gu, Jascha Rohmer, Justin Jetter, Lorenz Kienle, Eckhard Quandt and Richard D. James, Exploding and weeping ceramics, Nature, 599, (Nov. 18, 2021), 416-420.

Ananya Renuka Balakrishna and Richard D. James, Design of soft magnetic materials, npj Computational Materials, 8 (2022).

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