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NSF Awards 14 Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announces 14 Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSECs) awarded as a result of the 2008 MRSEC competition (solicitation NSF 07-563).

MRSECs support outstanding multi- and inter-disciplinary materials research and education addressing fundamental problems in science and engineering. These centers investigate complex problems that benefit from the scope and level of interactions provided by a center. They foster active collaboration among universities, other MRSECs, industry, and National Laboratories.

“We are delighted to fund 14 MRSECs including five new centers,” said Zakya H. Kafafi, director for NSF’s Division of Materials Research (DMR). “These centers will promote the progress of materials science and education in important and timely areas such as sustainable energy, bio- and soft-materials and, next-generation electronics and photonics. In this regard, MRSECs will help further our economic competitiveness and our ability to live sustainably on earth, and will contribute to DMR’s efforts of broadening participation, and bridging the gaps in materials education between different institutions at all levels.”

The MRSECs are committed to broadening participation of underrepresented groups in materials research and education at all academic levels, and actively seek partnerships with schools, universities and colleges serving these groups which include women, minorities and people with disabilities.

Five new MRSECs were created as a result of the competition:

The Renewable Energy Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the Colorado School of Mines will study the unique properties of nanostructured materials to significantly enhance the performance of semiconductor photovoltaic devices and ion conducting composite membrane materials for fuel cells.

The Georgia Tech Laboratory for New Electronic Materials at the Georgia Institute of Technology will focus on fundamental materials properties and synthesis of graphene, a material that may revolutionize microelectronics.

The Ohio State University Center for Emergent Materials will perform research on new materials and phenomena in magnetoelectronics, future oxide-based electronic materials for devices that can perform multiple functions and energy-efficient, fast computers that have integrated memory and logic.

The Brandeis University MRSEC on Constraints and Frustration in Nano-Structures and Bio-Molecular Materials will focus on the fundamental understanding of emergent and complex properties in materials due to constraints similar to those occurring in biological systems. The goal is to develop novel structures for applications such as biosensors and solar cells, and developing self-powered “active” matter that can move on its own, like living matter.

The New York University MRSEC on Semantophoretic Assemblies will focus on colloidal architectures to understand the fundamental principles that govern the arrangement of microscopic particles and how novel materials can be created by manipulating particle shape, size and their interactions.

In addition, nine awards will support established centers which have successfully recompeted, in most cases with a significantly different focus of materials research and education.


14 Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Funded in 2008

MRSEC: Constraints and Frustration in Nano-Structured and Bio-Molecular Materials
Brandeis University
Director: Robert Meyer

This new MRSEC supports innovative research and education in the exciting subject of the relationship between nanomaterials science and biology. The research aims to understand how constraints similar to those found in living cells can lead to new “emergent” properties, and how to exploit these properties for developing novel nano-structured biomaterials, and biomimetic materials such as “active matter” capable of moving on their own power, like living matter. The MRSEC provides a multidisciplinary education to students that will contribute to developing a diverse workforce to meet the needs of biomaterials industries. The Center offers an innovative program targeted to inner-city minority science undergraduates at Brandeis. The Center provides novel facilities for research in the developing area of microfluidics and is collaborating with industry to develop microfluidics technologies.

Renewable Energy Materials Research Science and Engineering Center
Colorado School of Mines
Director: Craig Taylor

This new Center focuses on transformative materials research and educational directions that would significantly impact emerging renewable energy technologies. The research aims to harness unique properties of nanostructured materials to significantly enhance the performance of photovoltaic and studies ion conducting composite membrane materials for renewable energy applications such as fuel cells. A strategic partnership with scientists and engineers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory allows sharing of students, research associates, equipment and facilities between the two organizations. In addition, the Center collaborates with companies that are actively involved in alternative energies. Center educational and outreach activities directly expose students to renewable energy concepts at a young age and prepare them, throughout their K-12 education and into college and graduate school, for potential careers in this field.

The Georgia Tech Laboratory for New Electronic Materials
Georgia Institute of Technology
Director: Dennis Hess

This new Center addresses the need for new electronic materials and associated processes for applications in microelectronics, optics and sensors. The single Interdisciplinary Research Group on Graphene Science and Technology investigates fabrication and characterization approaches for the implementation of epitaxial graphene as an electronic material. The MRSEC has extensive collaborations with corporations, national laboratories and universities world-wide. Broad educational activities and outreach programs that integrate materials research into K-12, university and professional education are supported and fostered.

The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center
Harvard University
Co-Directors: David Weitz and Cynthia Friend

The MRSEC at Harvard offers a broad range of research activities from soft materials and glasses to biological materials. The research focuses on micromechanics, droplet templated materials and active soft materials with applications ranging from drug delivery to soft-robotics. The Center supports a vigorous program to educate and inspire the public about materials science and offers novel programs for high school teachers and research opportunities for undergraduates from all over the US. The MRSEC has extensive collaboration with industry, both with large, established companies and with start-up firms that are inspired by the work of the Center.

MIT Materials Research Science and Engineering Center
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Director: Michael Rubner

The MRSEC at MIT supports a broad-based interdisciplinary materials research program. The Center designs, fabricates, characterizes, and models nanomaterials for electrochemical energy storage and conversion, multi-component polymeric materials with mechanical properties that can be changed on-demand, and composite, multi-functional nano-structured optical fibers. In addition, functionalized polymer multilayers that interact with living cells and materials based on a two-dimensional triangular and kagomé lattice are studied. The Center has a wide-ranging education program directed toward graduate students, undergraduates, K-12 students and teachers. It operates several shared materials research facilities that benefit the broader research community.

NYU MRSEC for Semantophoretic Assemblies,
New York University
Director: Michael Ward

The MRSEC at NYU is a new Center focusing on fabrication of innovative materials - from the colloidal to macroscopic scale - based on colloidal or microscopic particles equipped with self-contained information that directs assembly, either through shape or chemical interactions. Potential applications include among others ceramic composite dental and medical materials as well as photonic materials. The Center takes advantage of its location to develop curriculum content for K-12 education and communities in New York City, reaching substantial numbers of minority students. The Center offers symposia in conjunction with the New York Academy of Sciences and operates an Industrial Partners Program as well as International Partner Workshops to significantly expand the impact of the MRSEC beyond NYU.

Center for Emergent Materials
Ohio State University
Director: Nitin Padture

This new Center performs integrated research on emergent materials and phenomena creating new paradigms in computing and information storage. The research activities focus on a new understanding of electron-spin injection and transport, and the synthesis and exploitation of multifunctional properties of innovative double perovskite heterostructures. An important component of the education program is an interactive, constructionist approach to address the nature and cognitive cause of the misconception of materials science concepts.

MRSEC: Center for Nanoscale Science
Pennsylvania State University
Director: Thomas Mallouk

This broad MRSEC exploits unique capabilities in materials synthesis and fabrication, microscopy, physical property measurements, molecular synthesis and theory to attain materials with new properties and functions. The Center explores biological and synthetic molecular motors, new phenomena in superconductivity, magnetism, and motion of electron spins due to confinement of electrons, the integration of metals and semiconductors in sophisticated patterns to control the propagation of light, and multiferroics that may enable new paradigms in computation and data storage. The MRSEC nurtures a broad range of partnerships with national, international and industrial collaborators. Center research activities are strongly integrated with educational and industrial programs, providing interdisciplinary training within a culture of outreach for a diverse group of students and postdocs. For maximum impact, the Center’s outreach activities couple the scientific expertise and enthusiasm of its members with its partners’ expertise in reaching large audiences.

Princeton Center for Complex Materials
Princeton University
Director: Richard Register

The MRSEC at Princeton employs an integrated team approach in which experiment, theory, and simulation combine to study several materials systems: electronic materials with triangular lattice and Dirac excitations; molecular interfaces formed by non-traditional fabrication methods; self-assembling nanoscale building blocks and their integration into defined structures; and new materials with functionality derived from control of quantum degrees of freedom. In addition to training of graduate and undergraduate students, the Center serves as a regional resource for K-12 materials education.

The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the
University of Chicago
Director: Sidney Nagel

The MRSEC at the University of Chicago supports innovative research to produce the design principles for the next generation of materials by focusing on investigating materials formed far from equilibrium. The broad based research program ranges from nanomaterials and quantum computing to macroscopic behavior of elastic sheets and granular media. In addition to training a diverse group of graduate and undergraduate students, the Chicago MRSEC brings science inquiry experiences to underserved students in neighboring communities on Chicago’s South Side including programs for students and teachers and after-school Science Clubs and partnerships with Science Museums across the country.

Soft Materials Research Center
University of Colorado at Boulder
Director: Noel Clark

The Soft Materials Research Center is one of the principal centers of liquid crystal study and expertise in the world, with research spanning the range from cutting-edge, basic liquid crystal and soft materials science to the development of enhanced capabilities for photonic, chemical, and biotech applications of soft materials. The Center offers a broad range of K-12 and postsecondary education and outreach activities, including the K-12 program “Materials Science from Colorado University” and the annual Science Wizards show. The Center is a resource for Liquid Crystal industrial development, being primarily responsible for a cluster of high-tech companies near Boulder, either spun off from the Center or started by Center graduates with Center involvement.

Materials Research Science and Engineering Center on Polymers
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Director: Thomas Russell

The MRSEC at UMass investigates fundamental challenges in polymer synthesis, physics, and engineering. This Center explores hierarchically ordered polymer systems based on nanoscopic elements and nano-confinement, seeks to control polymer surface morphology using elastic instabilities, probe fundamental polymer properties in ionic liquids, and studies amphiphilic polyelectrolytes. These research efforts will be significantly enhanced by the Center’s involvement in the Global Research Laboratory at Seoul National University, the Advanced Institute for Materials Research at Tohoku University, and collaborative efforts between the Center and national laboratories. The MRSEC established strong ties with undergraduate educational programs at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, the University of California at Riverside, the University of Vermont, and Howard University. The Center operates twelve Shared Experimental Facilities to enable Center researchers to perform forefront research on maintenance-intensive, state-of-the-art equipment at minimal cost to the individual researcher.

University of Minnesota Materials Research Science and Engineering Center
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
Director: Timothy Lodge

This multifaceted MRSEC enables important areas of future technology, ranging from biomedicine, separations, and plastic electronics to security, renewable energy, and information technology. The UMN MRSEC manages an extensive program in education and career development. Center research activities are integrated with educational programs, providing interdisciplinary training of students and postdocs. The MRSEC is bolstered by a broad complement of over 35 companies that contribute directly to IRG research through intellectual, technological, and financial support. International research collaborations and student exchanges are pursued with leading research labs in Asia and Europe. The UMN MRSEC benefits from an extensive suite of materials synthesis, characterization and computational facilities.

Materials Research Science and Engineering Center: Quantum and Spin Phenomena in Nanomagnetic Structures (QSPINS)
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Director: Evgeny Tsymbal

The Nebraska MRSEC’s research focuses on new magnetic materials and structures at the nanometer scale, with the aim of developing fundamental understanding of their properties and related phenomena important for advanced computation and data storage. QSPINS fosters interactions with industrial companies to leverage the expected scientific innovations for potential technological advances. As an integral part of the Center, QSPINS offers interdisciplinary training for the next generation of materials scientists and engineers by providing regional four-year institutions experience and tools to improve their materials science programs and curricula, offering opportunities for middle- and high-school teachers and their students to learn about materials science, and by addressing pre-college segments of the educational pipeline via targeted outreach activities.

NSF Press Release 08-167