Faculty Directory
Jian Cao

Associate Vice President for Research

Cardiss Collins Professor of Mechanical Engineering and (by courtesy) Civil and Environmental Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering

Director, Northwestern Initiative for Manufacturing Science and Innovation (NIMSI)


2145 Sheridan Road
Tech A214
Evanston, IL 60208-3109

847-467-1032Email Jian Cao


Cao Research Group


Mechanical Engineering

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Materials Science and Engineering


Theoretical and Applied Mechanics Graduate Program

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Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering, MIT, Cambridge, MA

M.S. Mechanical Engineering, MIT, Cambridge, MA

B.S. Materials Science and Engineering & Automatic Control, Shanghai JiaoTong University, Shanghai, China

Research Interests

Prof. Cao’s major research interests include innovative manufacturing processes and systems, particularly in the areas of deformation-based processes, laser additive, and laser subtractive processes. Her work has made fundamental contributions to the characterization of material behavior and the relationships between manufacturing processes and resulting material/part performances. Her research has integrated analytical and numerical simulation methods, control and sensors, design methodologies, and machine learning to advance manufacturing processes and systems. Prof. Cao’s research group has designed unique manufacturing equipment for dieless sheet forming, microforming, and additive manufacturing. Current research has direct impacts on energy-efficient manufacturing, surface engineering, and distributed manufacturing. Prof. Cao has published over 400 technical articles, including over 260 journal articles, 10 book chapters, and about 20 patents. She has given over 170 invited talks and published op-ed articles. 

Significant Recognition

  • Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2023
  • Inaugural ASME DeVor-Kapoor Manufacturing Medal, 2023
  • Ted Belytschko Applied Mechanics Award 2023 from the ASME Applied Mechanics Division
  • 2022 Researcher to Know selected by Illinois Science & Technology Coalition
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering 2022
  • ASME Milton C. Shaw Manufacturing Research Medal – to recognize significant fundamental contributions to the science and technology of manufacturing processes, 2020
  • SME Gold Medal, to recognize outstanding service to the manufacturing engineering profession in technical communications through published literature, technical writings or lectures, 2020
  • Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellow, US Department of Defense, 2019 – most prestigious and competitive single investigator research award by DoD
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Distinguished Achievement Team Award, DOE EERE Vehicle Technologies Office, 2019 – to recognize outstanding industry-university-government partnerships, with Ford, Dow Chemical and NIST.
  • Charles Russ Richards Memorial Award, ASME and Pi Tau Sigma – to recognize outstanding achievement by an individual who graduated in mechanical engineering more than 20 years ago
  • Frederick W. Taylor Research Medal, Society of Manufacturing Engineers
  • Fellow, The International Academy for Production Engineering (CIRP)
  • Fellow, Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME)

Significant Professional Service

  • Member, National Materials and Manufacturing Board of the National Academies, 2022 – present
  • Member, Board of Reviewing Editors, PNAS Nexus, 2023 – present
  • Member, Board of Directors, mHub, Chicago, May 2016 - present
  • Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Materials Processing Technology 2018-present
  • Editor, ASME Journal of Micro- and Nano-Manufacturing, 2012–2017
  • Chair, STC-F, The International Academy for Production Engineering (CIRP), 2017 - 2019
  • Past President of NAMRI/SME (North American Manufacturing Research Institution of SME)
  • Past Chair of the Manufacturing Engineering Division of ASME
  • Associate Editor, ASME Journal of Applied Mechanics, 2005-2011
  • Associate Editor, ASME Journal of Manufacturing Science and Engineering, 2003-2010
  • Guest editor, ASME Journal of Engineering Materials and Technology, October, 2001

Selected Publications

  1. Huang, D., Suarez, D., Kang, P., Ehmann, K., Cao. J. (2023) "Robot forming: automated English wheel as an avenue for flexibility and repeatability", Manufacturing letters, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mfglet.2023.08.104
  2. Xue, T., Liao, S., Gan, Z.T., Park, C., Xie, X., Liu, W.K. and Cao, J. (2023) “JAX-FEM: A differentiable GPU-accelerated 3D finite element solver for automatic inverse design and mechanistic data science”, Computer Physics Communication, Vol. 291, 108802, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpc.2023.108802
  3. Webster, S., Moser, N., Fezzaa, K., Sun, T., Ehmann, K., Garboczi, E., Cao., J., (2023) “Pore formation driven by particle impact in laser powder-blown directed energy deposition”, PNAS Nexus, Vol. 2, 1-9, https://doi.org/10.1093/pnasnexus/pgad178
  4. Kozjek, D., Porter, C., Carter, F. M. III, Mogonye, J.-E., and Cao, J. (2023) "Data-driven prediction of geometry- and toolpath sequence-dependent intra-layer process conditions variations in laser powder bed fusion", Journal of Manufacturing Processes, Vol. 100, p. 34-46, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmapro.2023.05.021.
  5. Carter, F.M. III, Kozjek, D., Porter, C., Clark, S.J., Fezzaa, K., Fujishima, M. and Cao, J. (2023) “Melt Pool Instability Detection Using Coaxial Photodiode System Validated by in-situ X-ray Imaging”, CIRP Annals, Vol. 72(1), 205-208. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cirp.2023.03.031.
  6. Mozaffar, M., Liao, S., Jeong, J., Xue, T. and Cao, J. (2023) “Differentiable Simulation for Material Thermal Response Design in Additive Manufacturing Processes”, Additive Manufacturing, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addma.2022.103337.
  7. Liao, S, Jeong, J., Zha, R., Xue, T. and Cao, J. (2023) “Simulation-guided Feedforward-feedback Control of Melt Pool Temperature in Directed Energy Deposition”, CIRP Annals, Vol. 72(1), 157-160. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cirp.2023.03.014
  8. Bisram, M., Ahmed, J., Hood, A and Cao, J. (2023) “A novel method for creation of complex microstructure cells through artificial molecular dynamics simulations”, Composites Science and Technology, 109849, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compscitech.2022.109849.
  9. Liao, S., Xue, T., Jeong, J., Webster, S., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2023) “Hybrid thermal modeling of additive manufacturing processes using physics-informed neural networks for temperature prediction and parameter identification”, Computational Mechanics.
  10. Jeong, J., Webster, S., Liao, S., Mogonye, J.E., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2022) “Cooling Rate Measurement in Directed Energy Deposition using Photodiode-Based Planck Thermometry (PDPT)”, Additive Manufacturing Letters, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addlet.2022.100101
  11. Xue, T., Gan, Z., Liao, S. and Cao, J. (2022) “Physics-embedded graph network for accelerating phase-field simulation of microstructure evolution in additive manufacturing”, npj Computational Materials, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41524-022-00890-9.
  12. Leem, D., Liao, S., Bhandari, S., Wang, Z., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2022) “A toolpath strategy for double-sided incremental forming of corrugated structures”, J. Materials Processing Technology, Vol. 308, 117727, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2022.117727.
  13. Bennett, J., Webster, S., Byers, J., Johnson, O., Wolff, S., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2022) “Powder-borne porosity in directed energy deposition”, J. Manufacturing Processes, Vol. 80, pp. 69-74, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmapro.2022.04.036.
  14. Bhandari, S., Kang, P., Jeong, J., Cao, J. and Ehmann, K. (2022) “Cavitation bubble removal by surfactants in Laser-Induced Plasma Micromachining”, Manufacturing Letters, Vol. 32, pp. 96-99, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mfglet.2022.04.004.
  15. Kozjek, D., Carter, F., Porter, C., Mogonye, J.E., Ehmann, K. and Cao, J. (2022), “Data-driven prediction of next-layer melt pool temperatures in laser powder bed fusion based on co-axial high-resolution Planck thermometry measurements”, J. Manufacturing Processes, Vol. 79, pp.81-90, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmapro.2022.04.033.
  16. Rout, S., Bisram, M. and Cao, J. (2022) ‘Methods for Numerical Simulation of Knit Based Morphable Structures: KnitMorphs”, Scientific Reports, 12:6630, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-09422-3.
  17. Jiang, Z.L., Liao, S., Slocum, A.H., Leem, D., Ehmann, K.F. and Cao, J. (2022) “Toolpath planning for manufacturing of complex parts through incremental sheet forming”, ASME Open Journal of Engineering, https://doi.org/10.1115/1.4053751
  18. Mozaffar, M., Liao, S.H., Xie, X.Y., Saha, S., Park, C., Cao, J. Liu, W.K. and Gan, Z. (2022) “Mechanistic Artificial Intelligence (Mechanistic-AI) for Modeling, Design, and Control of Advanced Manufacturing Processes: Current State and Perspectives”, J. Materials Processing Technology, Vol. 302, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2021.117485
  19. Mozaffar, M., Bostanabad, R., Chen, W., Ehmann, K., Cao, J., and Bessa, M.A. (2019) “Deep learning predicts path-dependent plasticity”, PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), December 16, 2019, https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/12/11/1911815116.
  20. Wolff, S.J., Gan, Z., Lin, S., Bennett, J.L., Yan, W., Hyatt, G., Ehmann, K.F., Wagner, G.J., Liu, W.K., Cao, J., (2019) “Experimentally validated predictions of thermal history and microhardness in laser-deposited Inconel 718 on carbon steel,” Additive Manufacturing, Vol. 27, p.540-551, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addma.2019.03.019


  1. Cao, J. and Kinsey, B., ‘Adaptive Method and Apparatus for Forming Tailor Welded Blank’,U.S. Patent No. 5,941,110, August 24, 1999.
  2. Cao, J., Lee, J.H. and Peshkin, M., ‘Real-time Draw-in Sensors and Methods ofFabrication’, U.S. Patent No. 6,769,280, August 3, 2004.
  3. Cao, J., Swanson, A. and Davis, T. “Microforming Method and Apparatus,” US Patent No 8,408,039 B2, April 2, 2013.
  4. Smith, K. S., Woody, B., Ziegert, J. and Cao, J. ‘Deformation Machining – A Hybrid Process’, US Patent No. 8,545,142, Oct. 1, 2013.
  5. Roth, J. and Cao, J. “Electrical-assisted Double Side Incremental Forming and Processes Thereof”, US Patent No. 8,741,079 B2, June 3, 2014.
  6. Cao, J., Zhou, R. and Ehmann, K “Desktop deformation-based micro surface texturing system”, US Patent No. 8,905,748 B2, December 9, 2014.
  7. Grzina, D. Rajesh, T., Cao, J., Wang, Q., Xia, Z. C., Ling, T.D., Liu, P. “Cutting Tools with Textured Surfaces,” US Patent No. 9,144,845, September 29, 2015.
  8. Malhotra, R. and Cao, J. “System and Method for Accumulative Double Sided Incremental Forming”, US Patent No. 9,168,580, October 27, 2015.
  9. Beltran, M., Cao, J. and Roth, J. “System and Method for Incremental Forming”, US Patent No. 9,221,091 B2, Dec. 29, 2015; US Patent No. 10,913,100, February 9, 2021.
  10. Zeng, Q., Ehmann, K.F. and Cao, J. “Tri-pyramid Robot: a novel 3-DOF translational parallel manipulator”, No. 9,283,671 B2, March 15, 2016; US Patent No. 10,583,552, March 10, 2020.
  11. Xia, Z. C., Cao, J., Wang, Q., Rajesh, T., Grzina, D., Ling, T.D., Liu, P. “Forming Tool having Textured Surfaces”, US Patent No. 9,321,090 B2, April 26, 2016.
  12. Pallav, K., Malhotra, R., Saxena, I. Ehmann, K.F. and Cao, J “Laser Induced Plasma Micromachining (LIPMM)”, US Patent No. 9,455,127 B2, Sept. 27, 2016; US Patent No. 10,692,700, June 23, 2020.
  13. Gao, R.X., Fan, Z. and Cao, J. “Methods and Apparatus for Monitoring Microrolling Processes Using Embedded Sensing”, US Patent No. 9,500,540, November 22, 2016.
  14. Cao, J., Zhou, R. and Ehmann, K “Desktop deformation-based micro surface texturing system”, US Patent No. 9,688,015 B2, June 27, 2017, division of 8,905,748.
  15. Yao, Y.W., Wang, X., Ulmer, M. and Cao, J. “Stress manipulated coating for figure reshape of optical substrates”, US Patent No. 9,864,105 B2, Jan. 9, 2018; Divisional US Patent No. 10,274,644 B2, April 30, 2019.
  16. Cao, J. and Roth, J. “Apparatus for Electrical-Assisted Incremental Forming and Process Thereof”, US Patent No. 9,951,397, April 24, 2018.
  17. Ndip-Agbor, E. E. and Cao, J. “An Automated Toolpath Generation Method for Double Sided Incremental forming of Three Dimensional Freeform Shapes from Sheets”, Patent No. 10,162,329, December 25, 2018.
  18. Zeng, Q., Ehmann, K., Ng, M.K. and Cao, J. “Incremental rotary rolling mill and method’, US Patent No. 11,077,477 B2, August 3, 2021.

In the Classroom

The Internet has made significant impacts on education. Vast information can now be much more easily obtained from the web compared to earlier years. To make the classroom experience unique, Professor Cao integrates recent developments in manufacturing research and development into the classroom, including review of the state-of-the-art new process innovations developed around the world, and invites external speakers from academia and industry to address the class. The integration of mechanics with manufacturing is also a must in her instruction. 

Professional Service

Prof. Cao has been active at the national and international stages. She served as the program director of the Materials Processing and Manufacturing (MPM) program at NSF from 2003 to 2005. During that short two-year period, under her leadership, the World Technology Evaluation Study on Micromanufacturing was conducted and co-sponsored by four government agencies and more than ten NSF programs. She co-initiated the joint-funding between NSF and DOE for her MPM program, which has been continued strongly after her departure. She is one of the main driving forces behind the well-received NSF workshops on CAREER development. Dr. Cao is active in professional societies, served as president of North American Manufacturing Research Institute of Society of Manufacturing Engineers, chair of ASME Manufacturing Engineering Division, chair of Scientific and Technical Committee on Forming of International Academy of Production Engineering (CIRP), and vice-chair of Additive Manufacturing Working group of CIRP.