Funding, Grants & Awards

NSF Bestows Massive Grants on Material Science Researchers at 12 Schools

Twelve research universities have received multi-year research grants from the National Science Foundation, among them Brandeis, Harvard, U Chicago and U Nebraska-Lincoln, for the purpose of continuing and starting up multidisciplinary materials science and engineering centers (MRSEC). The projects bring together engineers, chemists, physicists and others to collaborate.

U Chicago, which received $20.6 million for research over the next six years, focuses on design and synthesis of active materials that mimic the behavior of living cells, for example. That work could be applied in self-propelled robotics.

Harvard runs three interdisciplinary research groups. One is working to advance the theory of flow and mixing of viscoelastic materials in microfluidics, which would advance 3D printing. Another, micromechanics, could have application in mechanical devices for prosthetics. The third, active soft materials, is developing new materials for use in robotics, "foldable" motors and "muscle-like" actuators.

Brandeis researchers, who received $12 million, have been studying "bioinspired." soft materials, which the institution said could progress the state of targeted drug delivery systems in the future as one application. That university will be adding a second interdisciplinary research group, which hopes to develop new materials for artificial muscles, self-pumping fluids and self-healing materials.

U Nebraska, which received $9.6 million, is doing work that could have impact on the energy efficiency of electronic devices. That center is receiving a new name as well: "Polarization and Spin Phenomena in Nanoferroic Structures" or P-SPINS. The rebranding is intended to reflect an expanded emphasis on nanoferroic materials, a class of ceramic materials for use in electronics.

"Our MRSEC scientists are doing research at the frontiers of materials and nanoscience and although this is very basic research, it leads to advanced technologies and products that affect our everyday lives," said Prem Paul, U Nebraska-Lincoln vice chancellor for research and economic development. "An important part of the center's work is developing collaborations with industry and national laboratories to focus on potential applications."

All of the institutions also have outreach programs to draw women and other underrepresented groups of students into the field. U Nebraska, for instance, runs a conference for undergraduate women in physical sciences and a new "bridge program" that will partner with minority-serving institutions of higher education, including the University of Puerto Rico and North Carolina A&T State University.

Brandeis puts on exhibits at the Discovery Museum in Acton, MA and runs a "research experiences for undergraduates" program. U Chicago supports after-school science clubs. And Harvard is also developing new programs to woo returning veterans into science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

"These awards are representative of the exquisitely balanced and highly multidisciplinary research portfolio spanning all of the division-supported research areas," said Mary Galvin, director of the NSF division of Materials Research. "These multidisciplinary awards, in particular, will promote areas such as next-generation quantum computing, electronics and photonics and bio- and soft-materials."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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