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Synopsis of the MRSEC Program

Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers are supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to undertake materials research of scope and complexity that would not be feasible under traditional funding of individual research projects.


♦ require outstanding research quality, intellectual breadth, interdisciplinarity, flexibility in responding to new research opportunities, support for research infrastructure, and foster the integration of research and education in the materials field;
♦ address fundamental, complex problems of intellectual and societal importance,
♦ contribute to national priorities by fostering active collaboration between academia and other sectors, and
♦ constitute a national network of university-based Centers in materials research. 

Center Characteristics

The MRSECs constitute a spectrum of coordinated Centers of differing scientific breadth and administrative complexity that may address any area (or several areas) of materials research.

♦ Each MRSEC encompasses two to three Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs).
♦ Each IRG involves a diverse group of faculty members, associated researchers and students addressing a major topic in materials research.
♦ In each IRG, sustained support for interactive effort by several participants with complementary backgrounds, skills, and knowledge is critical to progress.

Each MRSEC also incorporates most or all of the following activities to an extent commensurate with the size of the Center:

♦ Programs to stimulate interdisciplinary education, including research experiences for undergraduates accessible to students from other institutions, and the development of human resources (including support for under-represented groups). 
♦ Active cooperation with industry, other institutions, and other sectors, including international collaborations, to stimulate and facilitate knowledge transfer among the participants and strengthen the links between university-based research and its application.
♦ Support for shared experimental facilities, properly equipped and maintained, and accessible to users from the Center and elsewhere.

Each MRSEC has the responsibility to manage and evaluate its own operation with respect to program administration, planning, content and direction.

Recently, a Materials Research Facilities Network (MRFN) was established. The MRFN is a nationwide partnership of the Shared Experimental Facilities (SEFs) supported by the NSF MRSECs. The MRFN is designed and operated to provide support to researchers and experimental facilities engaged in the broad area of Materials Research in academic, government and industrial laboratories around the world.

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, and responding quickly and effectively to new opportunities.  To this end, NSF encourages MRSECs to include support for junior faculty, high-risk projects, and emerging areas of interdisciplinary materials research.

MRSEC Review and Awards

MRSECs are reviewed initially as pre-proposals, then by invitation as full proposals.  See the latest MRSEC Proposal Solicitation (NSF 13-556) for details.  NSF does not normally support more than one MRSEC based at any one institution.  Awards range in size from about $1.6 million to $3.6 million per year and are made for an initial period of up to six years.  Renewed NSF support will be awarded only on the basis of comprehensive, competitive merit review. 

For more information see:
NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers: 2014 and 2017 Awards

Brandeis University – Bioinspired Soft Materials, Director: Seth Fraden

The Brandeis MRSEC seeks to create new materials that are constructed from only a few simplified components, yet capture the remarkable functionalities found in living organisms.  In addition to opening new directions in materials science research, these efforts will elucidate the minimal requirements for the emergence of biological function. This challenging endeavor draws on expertise in diverse and complementary experimental and theoretical techniques that span the physical and life sciences. Brandeis offers an ideal environment for such an interdisciplinary undertaking. Its small size engenders a highly collaborative environment. Its innovative graduate program trains students who work and thrive at the interface of physical and life sciences. The Brandeis life science faculty have pioneered biochemical studies of molecular motors and cytoskeletal machinery, its chemists have synthesized biocompatible self-assembling filaments, and its physicists have made important contributions toward understanding soft materials such as liquid crystals, gels and colloids. Starting from this background of excellence in molecular biology and soft materials science, and with support of the Brandeis MRSEC, this group of individuals will collaborate to combine elemental building blocks, such as motor proteins, DNA origami and filamentous virus, to understand the emergence of biomimetic functionalities that are highly sought-after in materials science and to synergistically engineer life-like materials. The MRSEC supports an innovative program targeted to inner-city minority science undergraduates at Brandeis.

The goal of IRG 1, Membrane based Materials, is to uncover the design principles that cells use to shape and reconfigure membranes, and to apply these principles in order to engineer heterogeneous and reconfigurable membrane materials. To accomplish this, they will exploit the analogy between nanometer-sized lipid bilayers and micron-sized colloidal monolayers assembled from filamentous viruses or DNA origami rods.

The goal of IRG 2, Biological Active Materials, is to create active analogs of quintessential soft matter systems including gels, liquids crystals, emulsions and vesicles using elemental force generators, such as motor proteins and monomer treadmilling. They will experimentally and theoretically characterize the emergent properties of such materials, including their ability to convert chemical energy into mechanical work, perform locomotion, and undergo dynamical reconfiguration.  

University of California at Santa Barbara – Materials Research Laboratory (MRL), Director/PI: Ram Seshadri & Associate Director/Co-PI: Ania Jayich

The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara develops and sustains the necessary human and physical infrastructure to advance materials research, education, and training in an integrative manner. Research in the different Interdisciplinary Research Groups integrate the preparation of new materials with the development of forefront theories to understand them, and advanced tools to measure materials properties, in order to address problems in interdisciplinary materials research. Seed projects encourage new researchers venturing in exciting research directions to join the Center. A strong emphasis placed on shared experimental facilities supports materials research at the UCSB campus, in addition to providing much-needed resources to researchers in the nearby communities while strengthening interaction with industry. Developing job creation through start-ups and impacting work-force preparedness through an award-winning education and outreach is a goal that threads through all of the activities of the Center. The three interdisciplinary research groups of the UCSB MRSEC encompass the arc from hard magnetic intermetallic materials and their microstructure, to chemistry and engineering of an underexplored class of polymeric materials, to biomaterials, and bioinspired processing, as described in greater details below.

IRG 1, Magnetic Intermetallic Mesostructures aims to understand and develop unprecedented control over the couplings between strain, magnetization, and temperature (entropy) in single- and multiphase intermetallic compounds. The long-term outcome of this research involves developing design rules for intermetallics that display engineered magnetoelastic and magnetocaloric responses to external fields, which will provide a fundamental advance capable of impacting technologies of actuation and solid-state refrigeration.

IRG 2, Polymeric Ionic Liquids elucidates fundamental design principles connecting molecular architecture and charge physics with material properties in polymeric ionic liquids, with the potential to revolutionize diverse applications. IRG-2 aims to understand how materials that incorporate delocalized ionic groups onto or within a low dielectric backbone self-assemble, and how charge moves through these structures. The use of ion-exchange chemistry to impart functional properties such as photochromism, multi-valent ion conductivity, redox activity, magnetism, and reconfigurability is a key goal.

IRG 3, Resilient Multiphase Soft Materials aims to create resilient soft materials optimized for load-bearing, energy dissipation, and toughness. Such lightweight materials have broad use in advanced resins, fabrics, packaging, additive manufacturing, separation technologies, and tissue replacements, and can be augmented with responsive functionality to create self-healing, reconfigurable structures. Inspired by the graded and hierarchical structures of natural marine materials, the aim of IRG-3 is to develop new strategies for materials processing that integrate precise, discrete polymer chemistries with out-of-equilibrium strategies such as external field-directed assembly, surface-directed and bulk phase separation, and structural arrest. Establishing multiscale structure-property relationships generates foundational design rules for creating new classes of versatile, multiphase soft materials.

University of Chicago - Materials Research Center, Director: Margaret Gardel

The Chicago MRSEC has established a highly successful, multidisciplinary approach to issues of technological importance at the forefront of materials research. The overarching goal, common to all of the Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs), is to produce the design principles for the next generation of materials that will enable the creation of materials with novel properties and functions of technological importance. The proposed research attacks problems beyond the reach of a single investigator or even a single discipline, and necessitates the assembly of researchers with complementary expertise as well as the coupling of experiments, theory and simulation. The MRSEC draws talents from twelve academic units and from Argonne National Laboratory and the City College of New York. While each interdisciplinary research group (IRG) focuses on a specific topic, the IRGs are linked scientifically and constitute a synergistic and powerful whole, through carefully conceived, center-wide programs. Not only are efforts collaborative within an IRG, but results from each IRG also inform the work in the others. The research activities of our MRSEC are organized into three IRGs:

IRG 1, Dynamics at Soft Interfaces, focuses on both scientific challenges and exciting technological opportunities that arise from controlling and manipulating how much or how fast a soft interface forms or deforms. The systems under study range from nanoscale colloids to macroscopic field-activated suspensions.    The research will establish the link between the interface dynamics and the properties of the material as a whole, and will open up opportunities for designing specific material responses that will provide a pathway towards innovative applications.

IRG 2, Spatiotemporal Control of Active Materials, represents an ambitious effort to understand, design, and synthesize materials containing distributed molecular elements that convert chemical energy into mechanical work. This IRG aspires to achieve control of active materials and ultimately to create novel molecular assemblies for robust tunable shape change.

IRG 3, Engineering Quantum Materials and Interactions, seeks to elucidate, manipulate and exploit quantum coherence in materials, from microscopic quantum centers to macroscopically entangled materials. Potential technological impacts include sensors using quantum centers, enhanced energy transport efficiency via engineering coherent couplings in meta-materials from individually coherent components.

University of Colorado - Soft Materials Research Center, Director: Noel Clark

The research of the SMRC is organized into two Interdisciplinary Research Groups, the Liquid Crystal Frontiers (LCF) IRG, and the Click Nucleic Acids (CNA) IRG.  This research and the SMRC outreach activities pursue three main goals: field-defining materials science and engineering; enhancement of science literacy and achievement; and creation & development of advanced soft materials applications and technologies. Nearly 20 years of NSF MRSEC support has catalyzed a transformative growth and diversification in materials research at UCB, a context that provides the foundation for these activities. The SMRC focuses on the discovery of new materials phenomena and new materials paradigms.  Each IRG is a highly collaborative team that melds materials design, synthesis, and physical study into a web that drives and facilitates the evolution of new  materials and materials concepts, as follows:

IRG 1, Liquid Crystal Frontiers, is one of the principal centers of liquid crystal (LC) study and expertise in the world, with research ranging from basic LC and soft materials science to the development of enhanced capabilities for photonic, chemical, and biotech applications of soft materials.  Of particular interest are: new LC structural themes that exploit the interplay of chirality and polarity, such as the heliconical nematic and helical nanofilament phases; novel LC phases of colloidal plates and rods including ferromagnetic nematics; LC interaction with topologically complex colloids; nanoporous LC polymers for electrolytes and organic photovoltaics; active interfacial LCs for biodetection; chromonic LC mixtures; and hierarchical self-assembly of nanoDNA.

IRG 2, Click Nucleic Acids, will pursue a broad exploration of the sequence directed self-assembly (SDSA) of functional materials based on DNA analogs made using click chemistry.  Recent years have seen breathtaking advances in nanoscale science of SDSA using DNA.  The resulting proof-of- concept achievements promise new DNA-based technologies but realizing this potential in the materials realm will require enhanced scalability, dramatically lower cost, and a greatly expanded molecular structural palette than is available with DNA. CNAs are DNA analogs in which the monomer backbone/base units are joined using photo-initiated thiolene click ligation, a family of elegant chemistries known for robust, orthogonal reactions to completion and stoichiometric reactant use, enabling CNA oligomers and polymers to be made in volume reactors with monomer chain and base structures that can be widely tuned. An exciting palette of CNA applications in nano- and bio-sciences is proposed.

Columbia University – Columbia Center for Precision Assembly of Superstratic and Superatomic Solids, Director: James Hone

This MRSEC, led by Columbia University in partnership with City College of New York, Harvard University, Stanford University, Barnard College, and the University of the Virgin Islands, encompasses two IRGs that build higher dimensional materials from lower dimensional structures with unprecedented levels of control. Both IRGs are built around techniques pioneered by the team, and bring together researchers with diverse capabilities, strong accomplishments, and an exemplary record of collaboration.  The unified center enables the formation of the interdisciplinary teams required to undertake the proposed research, the support of shared experimental tools, the implementation of a multi-faceted program of education and human resources development, and focused efforts to improve diversity.  The MRSEC leverages the proximity of Columbia, CCNY, and Barnard for intercampus cooperation, and nearby K-12 schools for educational activities. Brookhaven National Laboratory, Honda, IBM, and international collaborators provide research partnerships and educational opportunities. The supported IRGs are:

IRG 1, Heterostructures of van der Waals Materials, focuses on the study of van der Waals heterostructures, created by vertical stacking of two-dimensional materials. The IRG 1 team is focused on two broad materials classes: 2D semiconductors (chiefly transition metal dichalcogenides - TMDCs) and 2D metals (including metallic TMDCs and topological insulators - TIs). Insulating hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) is used as a low-disorder dielectric interface and encapsulant; and conducting graphene is used as an electrical contact material. The goals of IRG 1 are to use these heterostructures to: study individual 2D materials in the ultraclean limit; study interactions between 2D materials; and study new emergent properties at interfaces.

IRG 2, Creating Multi-Functional Materials from Superatoms, assembles new classes of functional materials using precisely defined superatom building blocks coupled together with new forms of inter-superatom bonding. This approach offers the attractive proposition of encoding desirable physical properties in the building blocks with exquisite control of inter-superatom interaction to create materials with tunable and multiple functionalities. The overarching goals of IRG2 are to (1) control the coupling between subunits to produce highly delocalized systems; (2) control the dimensionality between superatoms; and (3) utilize this this new leave of control to produce study new materials properties. Given the enormous library of superatom structures and chemical/physical properties, IRG2 develops and expands the superatom concept into a large “periodic table” to enable designer materials with unprecedented levels of complexity and functionality.

Cornell University – Cornell Center for Materials Research, Director: Melissa A. Hines

The central mission of the Center is to explore and advance the design, control, and fundamental understanding of materials through collaborative experimental and theoretical studies. The Center focuses on forefront problems that require the combined expertise of interdisciplinary teams of Cornell researchers and external collaborators. The goal of the research program is to explore fundamental challenges in interdisciplinary materials research that both impede technological progress and have a scope and complexity that require the sustained contribution of researchers from multiple disciplines. The CCMR research program is organized into three IRGs (interdisciplinary research groups) and a number of Seeds (smaller groups exploring new topics). Three other activities complete the CCMR’s mission: educational outreach to K-12 teachers, students, and undergraduates; industrial outreach and knowledge transfer; and the operation of Shared Facilities that serve the broader materials research community, both on- and off-campus, as well as the IRG and Seed research programs.
The goal of IRG 1: Mechanisms, Materials, and Devices for Spin Manipulation is to discover, understand, and apply new mechanisms for controlling spins in magnetic devices. This field is important both because it is an area of rapid progress in fundamental materials physics and because improved control over spins can often be applied quickly for technology. The IRG’s research will aim to provide the scientific foundations for energy-efficient nonvolatile memories with revolutionary capabilities and also frequency-agile nanoscale microwave sources and signal-processing devices extendable to THz frequencies.

The goal of IRG 2: Structured Materials for Strong Light-Matter Interactions is to understand, create, and harness exceptionally strong light-matter interactions for scientific discoveries and future photonic information processing technology. To be disruptive, integrated photonics will need to operate at high speed, with extremely high efficiency, at low power, and ideally, be compatible with future quantum technologies. This integrated materials-photonics team is addressing the historic weakness of optical information processing technologies — namely, that photons interact weakly with each other and with matter — using “structured materials:” high-performance optical materials that are sculpted on the nano- or mesoscale to enhance their optical properties.
The goal of IRG 3: 2D Atomic Membranes for 3D Systems is to explore the fundamental challenges associated with transducing small local signals (physical, chemical, etc.) into global observable changes at nanoscale dimensions. To do this, the group is combining recent advances in two-dimensional atomic membranes growth with the scale-invariant properties of the centuries-old art forms of origami (“ori” = fold) and kirigami (“kiri” = cut). The group aims to take miniaturization to its ultimate limit, creating atomically thin “paper” materials that self-fold into incredibly responsive structures with lateral features at the micron to nanometer scale, enabling for example the in-situ monitoring of forces, chemical composition, and other signals.

Harvard University - Materials Research Center, Director: David Weitz

This MRSEC supports a broad interdisciplinary research program that investigates the mechanical properties of ordered and disordered materials at scales intermediate between atomistic and continuum, focuses on and exploits digital, 3D assembly to develop novel materials, and explores innovative ways to make stimuli-responsive active materials. The MRSEC conducts a broad education and outreach program that includes extensive public events, activities for K-12 students, summer research experiences for undergraduates and teachers, and programs to enhance the participation of members of underrepresented groups in science and engineering at the graduate, postgraduate, and faculty levels. The Center has strong international collaborations and a long record of translating discoveries into vibrant startup companies both enriching the scientific community while enhancing the national economy. Three interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs) are supported, as are several seed projects that engage new faculty and establish intellectual leadership in new fields:
IRG 1, Mechanics of Disordered Soft Materials, investigates properties of soft materials that are subjected to very large deformations.  This IRG is establishing the mechanisms that determine the large-scale deformation of soft materials. The IRG is creating new, composite designer gels for application as tough adhesives, using gels to explore fracture, and exploiting colloid-based materials to study plastic flow.
IRG 2, Digital Assembly of Soft Materials, establishes the fundamental knowledge required to create and rapidly transform diverse classes of soft materials into 3D functional architectures to enable fabrication of new types of flexible, reconfigurable, and heterogeneously integrated materials.  These structures are widely exploited by Center members to investigate new phenomena and function.
IRG 3, Controlling and Using Instabilities in Soft, Elastic Materials, develops the science of soft, non-linear, unstable, elastomers and uses material instabilities to develop devices with high-value performance at lower cost.  By integrating new design and fabrication approaches, this IRG is creating the next generation of soft machines and other classes of robotic matter.

University of Illinois – Illinois MRSEC, Director: Nadya Mason

The mission of the Illinois MRSEC is to (i) perform fundamental, innovative research, broadly centered on understanding the dynamic properties of materials, and (ii) support interdisciplinary education and training of students in materials design, understanding, and application. The science of the Center seeks to form the basis for new technologies in electronics, information storage, photonics, and biomaterials that will greatly benefit society. The Illinois MRSEC leverages synergies such as: shared facilities (based in the Illinois Materials Research Lab) and resources (e.g., computation supported by NCSA/Blue Waters); the development of cutting-edge materials synthesis and characterization tools; an intellectual focus on new dynamical regimes of materials; enhanced integration of education and outreach with world-class research; a focus on improving scientific communication; and increased diversity leading to more creative and productive research. Two highly interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs) are supported:

IRG 1, Metallic Antiferromagnetic Materials: Ultrafast Charge, Lattice, and Magnetization Dynamics. This IRG aims to advance understanding and control of metallic antiferromagnetic materials using ultrafast optics and currents, as well as fast temperature excursions. The primary goal is to answer open questions concerning the coupling of magnetic order, optical fields, electronic excitations, and lattice vibrations that underlie fundamental limits on the control of magnetization dynamics.

IRG 2, Active Interfaces Between Highly-Deformable Nanomaterials. This IRG will transform understanding of the link between deformations of 2D heterostructures and molecular assemblies, and the resultant changes in electronic, chemical, and optical properties. It will explore a novel regime where non-uniform deformations are large compared to material dimensions, resulting in emergent properties and functionalities.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Center for Materials Science and Engineering, Director: Geoffrey Beach

The underlying mission of the MIT MRSEC is to enable – through interdisciplinary fundamental research, innovative educational outreach programs, and directed knowledge transfer – the development and understanding of new materials, structures, and theories that can impact the current and future needs of society. The Center for Materials Science and Engineering (CMSE) works to bring together the large and diverse materials community at MIT in a manner that produces high impact science and engineering typically not realized through usual modes of operation. The Center has a strong education program directed toward graduate students, undergraduates, middle and high school students and K-12 teachers.  Emphasis is placed on including underrepresented minorities in these programs.  The Center operates widely accessible shared facilities and has an effective industrial outreach program. The following three IRGs are supported by the center.

IRG 1, Harnessing In-Fiber Fluid Instabilities for Scalable and Universal Multidimensional Nanosphere Design, Manufacturing, and Applications, explores fundamental issues associated with multi-material in-fiber fluid instabilities and uses the resultant knowledge to develop a new materials-agnostic fabrication approach for nanospheres of arbitrary size, geometry, and composition. This research will set the stage for discoveries, both fundamental and applied, spanning novel neuronal interface devices, delivery vehicles for pharmaceuticals, and potentially in the chemical and electronics industries.

IRG 2, Simple Engineered Biological Motifs for Complex Hydrogel Function, seeks to identify, engineer, and exploit the interplay of simple molecular motifs that are common to complex biological hydrogels. This research will enable the creation and control of complex biological hydrogel functions in synthetically accessible materials with potential impact in new fundamental materials design and biomedical and biological applications.

IRG 3, Nanionics at the Interface: Charge, Phonon, and Spin Transport, seeks to discover the coupling mechanisms between oxygen defects and the transport of phonons, spin, and charge at the interfaces of complex oxides. The resultant new knowledge will guide the design of materials for the next generation of miniaturized and high-efficiency devices for energy conversion and for information processing and storage.

University of Minnesota – Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, Director: Timothy P. Lodge
The University of Minnesota (UMN) MRSEC unites over 30 distinguished senior and promising junior faculty from five departments in a multidisciplinary program to address fundamental issues spanning a wide spectrum of soft and hard materials. Their vision is to be a comprehensive center that integrates interdisciplinary materials research with innovative outreach to inspire excellence in all aspects of science and engineering. The topics to be addressed – all timely, intellectually rich, and technologically important – are sufficiently broad and challenging to require a team approach. Furthermore, the Center (i) operates a vigorous Seed program, including specific projects designed to foster innovation and promote Center growth and evolution; (ii) fosters industrial involvement at an unprecedented scale; (iii) enables state-of-the-art Shared Facilities to be developed, maintained and made available to a national base of users; (iv) develops rewarding long-term partnerships with minority-serving institutions; (v) supports ongoing, effective K-12 outreach activities involving thousands of younger learners every year. The MRSEC supports three IRGs; each IRG integrates the six basic elements of materials science and engineering – synthesis, theory, structural characterization, property evaluation, processing, and applications – required for effective innovation in materials research and development:
IRG 1, Electrostatic Control of Materials, exploits a set of new techniques for electrostatic manipulation of charge carrier density at material surfaces as a universal platform to probe and control electronic properties in novel materials. Recently developed methods based on ionic liquids, ionic gels, and solid electrolyte structures are being used to generate unprecedented charge densities in a variety of materials, up to significant fractions of an electron per unit cell, enabling dramatic property modification. Opportunities include reversible control of magnetic order and properties, fine-tuning of insulator-metal and superconducting transitions, novel electronic and opto-electronic device concepts, discovery of new electronic and magnetic phases, and determination of the limits of transport in new materials. The IRG is exploring three classes of materials of exceptional current interest as test cases: (i) organic conductors; (ii) metal chalcogenides; and (iii) complex oxides. The investigators are affiliated with the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Physics.
IRG 2, Sustainable Nanocrystal Materials, focuses on the design, synthesis, processing, and thin film properties of environmentally benign nanocrystal-based electronic and optoelectronic materials. The field is currently constrained by toxic (e.g., Pb, Cd) and/or scarce (e.g., In, Te) elements, with serious environmental, health, and economic concerns. IRG-2 seeks to overcome these barriers by discovering and developing nanocrystal-based electronic thin films made from nontoxic, abundant and sustainable materials using scalable, low-temperature processes. The IRG leverages unique expertise in gas phase synthesis of nanomaterials, enabling approaches that are inherently solvent and ligand-free, and well-suited for the synthesis of non-toxic semiconducting materials. The IRG focuses on (i) nanocrystal synthesis and characterization; (ii) nanocrystal materials processing; and (iii) materials properties characterization and theory. The investigators are affiliated with the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Chemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Physics.
IRG 3, Hierarchical Multifunctional Macromolecular Materials, is developing a multiple interaction approach to polymer materials design that enables multifunctional applications by decoupling the optimization of two or more desired attributes. The IRG is exploring this paradigm in three promising areas that aim to: (i) control aqueous rheology and gelation with polymers containing cellulose ether blocks; (ii) control the structure and properties of block-polymer-based "amphiplexes", assemblies of polyanions with cationic copolymer micelles; and (iii) design and prepare novel multiblock polymers featuring independent control of ordered-state symmetries and mechanical properties. Intellectual advances by the IRG will impact a wide range of societally important technologies, including batteries, composites, food, fuel cells, lithography, oil and gas recovery, personal care, pharmaceutical formulations, textiles, water purification and treatment. The investigators are affiliated with the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Chemistry, and Mechanical Engineering. 

University of Nebraska- Polarization and Spin Phenomena in Nanoferroic Structures (P-SPINS), Director: Evgeny Tsymbal

The Nebraska MRSEC takes full advantage of UNL’s collaborative group of scientists with exceptional expertise in fundamental properties of nanomaterials, functional heterostructures, and hybrid devices; newly constructed state-of-the-art research facilities; education and outreach infrastructure; and growing cohort of industry partners to explore emerging phenomena in nanoferroic materials whose unique electronic, magnetic, and transport properties offer exciting prospects for information processing; storage, generation, and distribution of electrical power; and advanced electronics. P-SPINS's education and outreach programs encourage gifted young people to pursue scientific careers, broaden the participation of underrepresented groups in science, and improve materials literacy among the general public.

Two Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs) comprise the core of the Center:

IRG 1, Magnetoelectric Materials and Functional Interfaces, is focused on magnetoelectricity in complex functional heterostructures and its unconventional use beyond the realm of static equilibrium and linear response. This IRG synergistically explores dynamic strain-driven phase transitions in magnetoelectric bulk materials and thin films, voltage-controlled entropy changes, magnetoelectric heterostructures for ultra-low power devices with memory and logic functions, and electrical tuning of interface magnetic anisotropy and exchange bias.

IRG 2, Polarization-Enabled Electronic Phenomena, exploits ferroelectric polarization as a state variable to realize new polarization-enabled electronic and transport properties of novel oxide, organic, and hybrid heterostructures. This IRG investigates ferroelectrically induced resistive switching effects, modulation of electronic confinement at the hybrid ferroelectric/semiconductor and organic interfaces, dipole ordering in molecular ferroelectric structures, and manipulation of polarization-enabled electronic properties.

New York University – NYU Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, Director: Michael Ward

The goals of the NYU MRSEC are straightforward – perform world-class research that cannot be performed by individual investigators alone, instill an interdisciplinary culture in graduate students and postdocs for thriving careers, and cultivate excitement in STEM among young scientists and engineers. The research mission of the NYU MRSEC revolves around two IRGs:

IRG 1, Driven and Active Matter, combines researchers from Chemistry, Civil and Chemical Engineering, Mathematics and Physics to investigate new principles related to the structures and correlations that arise in granular, multicomponent and active materials under external and internal driving. Understanding their self-organization seeks to optimize material properties such as their yield strength and photonic band structure, and to develop active materials such as optically reconfigurable colloids, swimmers, and active extensile viscoelastic liquids. These materials can respond to environmental queues, such as temperature or concentration gradients, giving rise to functionalities that can be guided at will. Moreover, the mechanisms of assembly allow for programmability in the sequence in which the constituents assemble, such that complex, hierarchical architectures can be accessed. This line of research opens the path for macroscopic objects to be spontaneously built by carefully designed colloidal particles. For example, the self-assembly of photonic crystals, optical filters, paints and coatings with a particular geometry, is within reach.

IRG 2, Molecular Crystal Growth Mechanisms, assembles a team from Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics to investigate the fundamental science of molecular crystal growth, an area of vital interest for pharmaceuticals, organic electronics, and other technologies. While crystal growth of metals, semiconductors, and binary oxides is highly developed, understanding of basic elements of molecular crystal growth is lacking. The IRG advances the understanding of essential aspects of crystal growth science and engineering, investigating nucleation, dislocation generation and structure, multi-step assembly at the unit cell level, and origins of non-classical morphologies in molecular crystals. IRG 2 combines theoretical modeling, computer simulation, and experiment to develop predictive models of crystal structure and free energy and to investigate the dynamic aspects of crystal growth. 

Northwestern University – Center for Multifunctional Materials, Director: Mark Hersam

The Northwestern University Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (NU-MRSEC) integrates materials research, education, and outreach through two interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs) and with external partners in academia, industry, national laboratories, and museums, both domestically and abroad. The research of the NU-MRSEC informs a diverse range of education and outreach activities that target all levels including postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates, K-12 students/teachers, and the general public. Outreach examples include Transdisciplinary Engineering and Theater Workshops that create original science-themed plays and Jugando con la Ciencia (Playing with Science) that translates outreach curricula and texts into Spanish. The NU-MRSEC supports two IRGs:

IRG 1, Reconfigurable Responses in Mixed-Dimensional Heterojunctions, explores how heterojunctions consisting of nanoelectronic materials of differing dimensionality are influenced by dielectric screening, electronic band/level offsets, and interfacial regions. By utilizing low-dimensional materials synthesis, surface chemical functionalization, spatially and spectrally resolved characterization, and advanced computation, IRG 1 develops quantitative descriptions of the nonlinear responses in mixed-dimensional heterojunctions. Elucidation of the mechanisms governing structural changes, and the corresponding changes in optoelectronic properties, allows controllable reconfiguration in response to stimuli including electric fields, photons, heating, and reactive species with implications for neuromorphic computing.

IRG 2, Functional Heteroanionic Materials via the Science of Synthesis, develops new heteroanionic materials with tunable electronic, ionic, thermal, and optical properties, which are otherwise inaccessible from simpler homoanionic structures and chemistries. Discovery of heteroanionic materials are facilitated by synthetic and characterization methods that provide a panoramic view of crystallization and diffusion processes in which emerging phases of interest are revealed and growth mechanisms are delineated. By emphasizing synthesis as the central science, the tools, protocols, and databases formulated in IRG 2 enable synthesis-on-demand of complex materials suggested by computational discovery.

Ohio State University – Center for Emergent Materials, Director: Chris Hammel

This MRSEC performs integrated, fundamental research on emergent materials leading to new paradigms for understanding and exploiting novel phenomena arising in diverse magnetic and spin-functional materials.  The research activities focus on understanding relationships between exchange, spin-orbit and coulomb interactions, discovering and synthesizing novel materials systems, and uncovering the phenomena they host.  An important component of the education program is an interactive, constructionist approach to addressing the nature and cognitive cause of the misunderstanding of materials science concepts. The MRSEC supports three IRGs:
IRG 1, Spin-Orbit Coupling in Correlated Materials: Novel Phases and Phenomena, is discovering and developing new paradigms and guiding principles arising from the interplay of spin-orbit coupling and correlations. A particular focus of IRG-1 is advancing fundamental understanding of 4d and 5d oxides and magnetism in multi-orbital systems.
IRG 2, Control of 2D Electronic Structure and 1D Interfaces by Surface Patterning Group IV Graphane Analogues, is creating new, single atom thick 2D materials reminiscent of graphene but composed of heavier group IV atoms.  The overall goal is to realize robust, two-dimensional topological phases including quantum spin Hall and quantum anomalous Hall insulators with dissipationless edge currents.  This requires understanding and controlling spin-orbit coupling, electronic band structure, and ferromagnetic ordering in these materials. Spatially patterning in 2D opens the exciting possibility of novel 1D interfaces.
IRG 3, Spin Flux Through Engineered Magnetic Textures: Thermal, Resonant, and Coherent Phenomena, is focused on spin transport in novel materials and structures via collective and coherent magnetic excitations that enable new regimes of highly efficient spin conduction.  IRG-3 researchers are investigating the generation, propagation, and detection of spin currents mediated by novel magnonic excitations and phonons in magnetic insulators, as well as spin-polarized and spin-orbit coupled electrons in conductors. The materials under investigation include ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic insulators and semiconducting materials.

University of Pennsylvania - Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter, Director: Arjun Yodh

The Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM) hosts the MRSEC at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). LRSM was created by Penn in 1960; it was among the very first interdisciplinary academic institutes for materials research in the United States. Its research mission is to discover new materials and identify innovative applications through collaborative, interdisciplinary research, including design, synthesis, characterization, theory and modeling of materials. The 2017-23 LRSM MRSEC research will elucidate materials that extend from “soft” to “hard” matter and vary widely, ranging from atomic/molecular glasses and nanocrystals to liquid crystals and colloids to polymers and fibrous biomaterials. Recurrent themes are networks, interfaces, assembly, design rules, collective interactions, and the goal to create advanced materials with unique properties and applications. Long-range practical goals include aims to design tough disordered solids, to synthesize responsive and self-reinforcing fibrous networks, and to create static and reconfigurable architectures for nano-crystals which impart enhanced sensitivity to electric and magnetic fields. The LRSM MRSEC also sustains an array of education and human resources development activities. Outreach impact will extend from K-12 students and their teachers to undergraduates and faculty at minority serving institutions to scientists at nearby industrial, government, and academic institutions, and to the general public. The MRSEC has three interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs).

IRG 1, Rearrangements and Softness in Disordered, seeks to develop fundamental understanding of the organization and proliferation of particle-scale rearrangements in disordered solids deformed beyond the onset of yield, and thereby identify strategies for controlling nonlinear mechanical response and enhancing toughness in materials. Progress towards achieving these goals holds potential to improve the properties of atomic/molecular glasses, nano- and micro-particle films, and granular materials.

IRG 2, Structural Chemo-Mechanics of Fibrous Networks, aims to understand, synthesize, and utilize fibrous materials based on nonlinear mechanical responses that enable chemical reactions to be locally controlled by macroscopic stresses applied to the network (chemo-mechanics). This concept offers means to create novel self-reinforcing and sensing materials. The new ability to control chemistry with applied stress offers applications for fibrous materials in areas ranging from textiles to regenerative medicine.

IRG 3, Pluperfect Nanocrystal Architectures, draws expertise from nanocrystal and liquid crystal communities to develop chemical and geometric cues at the nano-scale for organizing nanocrystals into architectures on hard (fabricated) and in soft (reconfigurable) materials that break from structural periodicity to impart novel optical and magnetic response. This research lays foundation for applications relevant to energy, communication, and sensing devices, as well as for new classes of optical filters, modulators, and isolators.

Penn State University – Center for Nanoscale Science, Director: Vincent Crespi

The MRSEC supports a broad range of materials research encompassing studies and applications of biological and synthetic molecular motors, collective electronic and spintronic phenomena in restricted geometries, materials for the management of electromagnetic radiation, and multiferroics. The Center supports a full range of education activities ranging from the graduate level to K-12 teachers and students and education programs for the public. The Center for Nanoscale Science reaches deep into the pool of expertise present at Penn State and other key institutions to create teams to meet these goals. This cohesive culture of shared science is then extended to educate and inspire future scientists and members of the public, bring advances to market through industrial outreach, and reach the wider community through international collaboration and facilities networks. The MRSEC support four IRGs; each of the IRGs teams uses realistic theory to design compelling new systems that experimentalists can actually build, integrating the diverse forms of expertise necessary to conceive, implement and develop new classes of materials.

IRG 1, Designing Functionality into Layered Ferroics, has discovered 4 of the 6 main mechanisms of multiferroicity; it will greatly expand the palette of possible ferroics by activating broad new classes of layered materials through atomic-scale control over geometry, topology, composition, and gradients.

IRG 2, Powered Motion at the Nanoscale, pioneered the field of catalytic colloidal nanomotors; it will advance the field into new ground of collective phenomena and molecular-scale motility in active, powered materials that capture key elements of biological behavior in abiotic systems.

IRG 3, High-Pressure Enabled Electronic Metalattices, has developed a unique capability to fill ~10nm pores with high-quality crystalline semiconductors and characterize them with high-harmonic ultrafast coherent photons; it will deploy these techniques to create a new class of ordered 3D metalattices that modulate electronic, magnetic, and vibrational degrees of freedom against nm-scale structural order.

IRG 4, Multicomponent Assemblies for Collective Function, has established principles of optically modulated, gradient-driven assembly of heterogeneous, reconfigurable particle arrays; it will develop and deploy these techniques as a unique platform for random lasers and bioinspired optical sensors.

Princeton University – Princeton Center for Complex Materials, Director: Ali Yazdani

The interdisciplinary research in the MRSEC at Princeton is focused on three directions in materials research. The first exploits recent advances in physics and chemistry to uncover novel “topological” quantum properties of electrons in semiconductors. The research is promising for enabling future electronics with ultralow heat dissipation, and enabling novel approaches to quantum computing. In the second direction, the researchers combine two new technologies that enable the growth of very thin polymer films with specialized physical properties critical for applications in many industries. The third direction seeks to control and manipulate the spin of a single electron trapped in an ultrathin nanowire. Advances will lead to logic elements for quantum computing as well as a new class of broadly tunable lasers. The researchers participate in a broad array of education projects. Each summer, several undergraduate students engage in supervised research in preparation for graduate school in science and engineering. In addition, the researchers host 18 high-school and 30 middle-school students from Central High, Trenton, for a rigorous 3-week science-camp (PUMA). The PUMA alumni have achieved a high-school graduation rate of 100%, with most going on to college. In addition, the researchers hold 8 one-day Science fairs each year (some co-organized with the town library) which attract from 300 to 800 K-12 students and their parents to campus. The MRSEC supports three IRGs:  

IRG 1, Topological Phases of Matter and Their Excitations, brings together a diverse team comprised of solid-state chemists, condensed matter physicists, and electrical engineers to create materials systems with topological electronic phases and to probe and understand their novel properties using a variety of experimental and theoretical techniques. Specifically, they seek to test experimentally the new predictions, as well as to broaden the search for new 3D topological phases (such as Weyl metals and Dirac metals) and novel excitations (Majorana bound states and parafermions) in several materials. They also propose a new transport tool to probe "spin liquids" in frustrated magnets.

IRG 2, Structure and Dynamics in Confined Polymers, building on their researchers’ recent success in raising dramatically the glass-transition temperature in thin-film PMMA grown by a laser-ablation technique (MAPLE). Combining expertise in fluorescence, nanoscale imaging and simulation, they propose to investigate the 20-year riddle of why the thermodynamic and microstructural properties of confined, nanostructured, polymers differ dramatically from those in the bulk.

IRG 3, Development of Ultra-Coherent Quantum Materials, focuses on the problem of quantum computing, a major problem is maintaining quantum coherence in qubits that are well-separated. Here, they propose to exploit the coupling between spin qubits and microwave photons in a high-Q resonator to solve this problem. They also propose experiments to achieve very long spin coherence lifetimes in isotopically pure silicon.

The University of Texas at Austin – Center for Dynamics and Control of Materials, Director: Edward T. Yu 

The Center for Dynamics and Control of Materials seeks to extend the traditional paradigm of materials research beyond the study of behavior in or near equilibrium to encompass the understanding and control of materials over extended temporal and spatial scales. The Center supports research on nanocomposite materials that combine inorganic and organic components, with applications in energy storage and filtration membranes, and on approaches for exploiting light to achieve dynamic, quantum control of materials. Through the concept of a Materials Community of Practice, the Center integrates interdisciplinary materials research with initiatives in education, outreach, and the promotion of diversity. The Center involves elementary school teachers in materials research to improve teacher efficacy and student engagement with science at a formative age. Outreach to the public via hands-on demonstrations and collaborations between artists and materials researchers brings materials science and technology to new audiences who might not otherwise be engaged. And partnerships with industry and the entrepreneurial community provide participants with experiences and connections to prepare them for success in a broad range of careers. The Center supports two IRGs:

IRG 1, Reconfigurable Porous Nanoparticle Networks, addresses multifunctional, reconfigurable networks of nanoparticles, polymers, and organic molecules that respond to a range of external stimuli. Fundamental principles are elucidated for understanding and controlling the assembly and reconfiguration of nanoparticles connected by molecular linkers, with theoretical and experimental efforts combining to create unique optical, chemical, or biological materials functionality. Research advances in this IRG are expected to enable responsive, reconfigurable materials based on integration of nanoparticles and macromolecules for applications in electronics, energy storage, photonics, and biology.

IRG 2, Materials Driven by Light, addresses light-matter interactions that lead to material properties not accessible in equilibrium. Phases and ordered states accessed via light-induced perturbations to energy landscapes, topological material behavior enabled by optical excitation, and formation of exotic quantum phases are explored to provide new understanding of and control over optically responsive materials. Research advances in this IRG are expected to lead to new understanding of material behavior accessible and controllable using temporally structured light, with potential applications in a broad range of technologies for communications and information processing.

University of Washington - Molecular Engineering Materials Center, Director: Daniel R. Gamelin

The University of Washington Molecular Engineering Materials Center (MEM-C) is forging new materials-research frontiers through team-based development of novel electronic and photonic materials relevant to future high-tech applications. Encompassing innovations in synthesis, characterization, theory, and application, the MRSEC integrates campus student, faculty, facility, and research, both programmatically and physically. A competitive seed program funds high-risk high-reward projects in emerging areas, expanding the MRSEC's impact. While developing the materials underpinnings of future advanced technologies, MEM-C provides advanced interdisciplinary education, training, diversity and outreach experience, and mentorship to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students from all corners of campus and the Puget Sound region that provide them valuable research experiences and prepare them for future STEM careers. MEM-C's integrated community activities emphasize aggressive STEM diversification and community involvement through two signature programs: promotion of (re)entry of veterans into STEM career tracks, and early recruitment/mentorship of students to STEM from underrepresented/underserved regional high schools. Additional activities include REU/RET programs, regional K-20 outreach, regional partnerships (e.g., Pacific Science Center) for public engagement, and interdisciplinary curriculum development. The MRSEC supports two IRGs:

IRG 1: Defects in Nanostructures, is focused on engineering unprecedented physical properties into inorganic nanostructures by controlling defect formation and doping, and will exploit these properties to develop new technologies ranging from laser cooling to solar concentration.

IRG 2: 2D Quantum Materials, is creating and studying new forms of quantum matter in atomically layered materials with particular focus on controlling electronic and excitonic phase transitions in such materials, and with potentially disruptive impact on energy and information technologies.

University of Wisconsin‑Madison – Emergent Order in Materials, Director: Nicholas Abbott

The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at University of Wisconsin – Madison (UW MRSEC) is an integrated research and education Center that brings together teams of researchers – undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty – from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to address a critical void in knowledge involving disorder in materials, and the emergence of order from disordered materials. The research has far-reaching impact on fields ranging from telecommunications, clean energy, and quantum information sciences.  The Center integrates the discovery and sharing of new knowledge with national leadership in development and dissemination of research-inspired educational materials for K-12 and the public, innovative programs that broaden participation of groups underrepresented in STEM fields, development of new characterization facilities that advance data analysis and sharing, industry outreach to promote regional economic development, and professional development and international opportunities that train the next-generation US workforce.
The research goals of the UW MRSEC are to design, synthesize and understand disorder and the emergence of order across a wide range of materials platforms.  The Center unites 44 senior investigators from 9 disciplines and integrates advances in synthesis, structural characterization, theory/simulation, property evaluation and applications. Center research is organized into two interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs) addressing complex challenges involving metals, inorganic oxides, semiconductors and complex organic molecular assemblies:
IRG 1, Stability in Glasses: New Materials and New Insights, leverages the cross fertilization of ideas and techniques from inorganic and organic glass research to address fundamental questions related to processes, structure and properties of glasses.  The approach builds on the discovery that physical vapor deposition can increase kinetic and thermodynamic stability of organic glass films.
IRG 2, Order from Disorder: Approaches for New Thin-Film Oxides, explores and engineers the growth of structurally, chemically and topographically complex metal oxide crystals from amorphous layers, with a focus on compositions and designs of epitaxial structures unconstrained by requirements of thermodynamic stability.  The approach also provides access to 3D geometries that are inaccessible via current methods.

For additional information:

♦ Visit, or the web sites of the individual Centers;

♦ Contact the NSF Program Director:

Dan Finotello
Tel : (703) 292-4676
Fax : (703) 292-9036

♦ Contact the MRSEC Director (see information below)

Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers

Brandeis University
Director:  Seth Fraden
415 South St.
Mail Stop 116
Waltham, MA 02459
Tel.: (781) 736-2870
FAX: (781) 736-2915
UC Santa Barbara
Director: Ram Seshadri
Materials Research Lab,
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
Tel:   (805) 893-6129
FAX:  805) 893-8797
University of  Chicago
Director: Margaret Gardel
James Franck Institute,
Dept. of Chemistry
5801 South Ellis Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60637
Tel: (773) 702-7068
FAX: (773) 702-7204
University of Colorado
Director:  Noel A. Clark
Department of Physics
Boulder, CO 80309-0390
Tel:     (303) 492-6420
FAX:  (303) 492-2998
Columbia University
Director: James Hone
530 W. 120th St., Rm. 1001 CEPSR; Mail Code 8903
Columbia University New York, NY 10027
Tel: (212) 854-4950
Fax: (212) 854-1909
Cornell University
Director: Melissa Hines
627 Clark Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Tel: (607) 255-3040
Fax: (607) 255-3957
Harvard University
Director:  David Weitz
Pierce Hall, Room 231
29 Oxford St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
Tel:     (617) 496-2842
FAX:  (617) 495-0426
University of Illinois
Director: Nadya Mason
Dept. of Physics
1110 W. Green St.
Urbana, IL 61801
Tel: (217) 244-9114
FAX: (217) 244-8544
Director: Geoffrey Beach
Center for Materials Science and Engineering, Rm. 6-101
77 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139-4037
Tel: (617) 258-0804
FAX: (617) 258-6478
University of Minnesota
Director: Timothy P. Lodge
Dept. of Chemistry
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Tel:  (612) 626-0798
FAX: (612) 626-7805
University of Nebraska
Director: Evgeny Y. Tsymbal
Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
855 North 16th St.
Lincoln, NE 68588-0299
Tel:    (402) 472-2586
FAX: (402) 472-2879
New York University
Director: Michael D. Ward
Department of Chemistry
100 Washington Square East
Room 1001
New York, NY 10003-6688
Tel: (212) 998-8439
FAX: (212) 260-7905
Northwestern University
Director: Mark Hersam
2145 Sheridan Rd.
K 1-11, First Floor
Evanston, IL 60208-3108
Tel.:   (847) 491-3606
FAX: (847) 467-6727
Ohio State University
Director: Chris Hammel
Physics Research Building, 191 W. Woodruff Ave.
Columbus, OH 43210-1117
Tel.:  (614) 247-6928
FAX: (614) 292-7557
U. of Pennsylvania
Director:  Arjun Yodh
Dept. Physics and Astronomy
209 South 33rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6396
Tel: (215) 898-8571
FAX: (215) 898-2010
Penn State University
Director:   Vin Crespi
Center for Nanoscale Science
104 Davey Laboratory
University Park, PA 16802
Tel:    (814) 863-0007
FAX: (814) 865-3604
Princeton University
Director: Ali Yazdani
Dept. Physics
Princeton, NJ 08544
Tel.: (609) 258-4347
FAX: (609) 258-6360
Univ. of Texas at Austin
Director: Edward T. Yu
Microelectronics Research Center
10100 Burnet Rd., Bldg. 160
Austin, TX 78758
Tel: (512) 232-5167
Fax: (512) 471-8969
University of Washington
Director: Daniel R. Gamelin
Dept. of Chemistry
Seattle, WA 98195-1700
Tel.: (206) 685-0901
FAX.: (206) 685-8665
University of Wisconsin
Director: Nick Abbott
1415 Engineering Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
Tel: (608) 265-5278
FAX: (608) 262-5434