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MRSEC Program Overview

Welcome to the internet hub of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC), a network of Centers located at academic institutions throughout the United States, funded by the National Science Foundation. This website provides organized connections to information and resources at the various MRSECs for the international scientific, industrial, and educational materials research and development communities.

Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSECs) support interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary materials research and education of the highest quality while addressing fundamental problems in science and engineering that are important to society. MRSECs require outstanding research quality, intellectual breadth, interdisciplinarity, flexibility in responding to new research opportunities, support for research infrastructure, and they foster the integration of research. MRSECs assess fundamental materials research topics of intellectual and technological importance, contribute to national priorities by fostering active collaboration between academia and other sectors, and enable researchers to address problems of a scope and complexity requiring the advantages of scale and interdisciplinarity provided by a campus-based research center.

The MRSEC program reinforces NSF’s commitment to excellence in interdisciplinary research and education; it is national in scope and significance, requiring coordination of the overall effort among Centers. The MRSEC program complements, but does not substitute for, NSF support for individual investigators, small groups, national user facilities, and instrumentation in materials research.

MRSECs are supported by NSF to undertake materials research of a scope and complexity that would not be feasible under traditional funding of individual research projects. NSF support is intended to reinforce the base of individual investigator and small group research by providing the flexibility to address topics requiring an approach of broad scope and duration. MRSECs are university-based, and undertake an interactive, interdisciplinary approach to materials research and education while fostering active cooperation among university-based researchers and those concerned with the application of materials research in industry and elsewhere. A MRSEC may encompass one or more interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs). Each IRG involves several faculty members and associated researchers, addressing a major topic or area in which sustained support for interactive effort by several participants with complimentary backgrounds, skills, and knowledge is critical to progress. The IRGs in a Center may be topically related, or they may address different topical aspects of materials research; they contribute to the synergy arising from the research and education activities of the Center and its common infrastructure, shared facilities and outreach programs. Thus, the Center as a whole is expected to be more than the sum of its parts.

The scope of activities of each MRSEC depends on the capabilities of the proposing institution. Smaller Centers normally consist of a single IRG addressing a particular topic in materials research, involving collaboration with industry or other sectors. Larger Centers undertake a broader program of research and education, and may involve several IRGs. MRSECs incorporate most or all of the following activities to an extent consistent with the size of the Center:

  • Programs to stimulate interdisciplinary education and the development of human resources (including support for underrepresented groups) through cooperation and collaboration with other institutions and sectors, as well as within the host institution. Cooperative programs involving minority and non-minority institutions are strongly encouraged.
  • Active cooperation with industry, to stimulate and facilitate knowledge transfer among the participants and strengthen the links between university-based research and its application; cooperation and collaboration with other academic institutions and other sectors. Active efforts to establish research collaborations and education activities at the international levels are strongly encouraged. Cooperative activities may include, but are not limited to: joint research programs; affiliate programs; joint development and use of shared experimental facilities; access to user facilities; visiting scientist programs; joint educational ventures; joint seminar series, colloquia or workshops; stimulation of new business ventures; involvement of external advisory groups; and industrial outreach programs.
  • Support for shared experimental facilities, properly staffed, equipped and maintained, and accessible to users from the Center, the participating institutions, and other institutions and sectors.

Each MRSEC has the responsibility to manage and evaluate its own operation with respect to program administration, planning, content, and direction. NSF support is intended to promote optimal use of university resources and capabilities, and to provide maximum flexibility in setting research directions, developing cooperative activities with other institutions and sectors, and responding quickly and effectively to new opportunities in materials research and education that are important to the nation’s research and technology base. NSF encourages MRSECs to include support for junior faculty, high-risk projects, and emerging areas of interdisciplinary materials research.

The MRSECs constitute a spectrum of coordinated Centers of differing scientific breadth and administrative complexity, which may address any area of materials research. The smaller Centers enable specialized areas of interdisciplinary excellence to be integrated into a national network of larger MRSECs. These in turn provide, in addition to research excellence, the infrastructure of equipment, education and outreach needed to ensure that the program as a whole meets its objectives and provides for effective coordination with industrial efforts. The MRSEC program will not normally provide support simultaneously for more than one Center based at any one institution.

MRSEC Directors serve on a national liaison team for the program and are expected to actively contribute to the liaison team efforts. The team is responsible for developing a liaison structure with the active participation of each Center, contributing to a network of Centers addressing common problems and opportunities, and facilitating links and cooperation among Centers as well as between Centers and other institutions.