CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The National Science Foundation has announced that it will establish four new Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers, including one at the University of Virginia, that will explore innovative materials and further the integration of research and education in the field of materials science.
In addition to the center at the University of Virginia, funded with a $5 million grant, the three other new centers will be located at the California Institute of Technology, the University of Oklahoma/University of Arkansas and Pennsylvania State University. The NSF will invest $24 million in the centers over five years.
The National Science Foundation also announced new awards for 11 existing materials centers, for a total of $110 million over five years. They are at the Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland/Rutgers University, Brown University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania, State University of New York at Stony Brook and the University of Wisconsin.
The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center grant will strengthen the University of Virginia's position in research areas ranging from electronic devices to fabrication of materials at the atomic level. It also will serve as an educational resource for both high school and university students, said Robert Hull, principal investigator and professor of materials science and engineering.
"The center will allow us to recruit two new outstanding young faculty members and bring together about 10 current faculty members from several departments," Hull said. "The funds also will allow a dozen top graduate students to work in the center, as well as providing research experience for several dozen undergraduates."
The Center for Nanoscopic Design at the University of Virginia will explore the assembly of highly perfected nanoscale structures. Applications include quantum dot electronics, biological templating and nanoscale control of electrochemical reactions.
Each award is granted initially for five years with continued NSF support possible after a competitive review. The new centers also will seek support from state government and private industry.
The National Science Foundation award to the University of Virginia's Materials Science Department, which is ranked 21st in the country in the most recent U.S. News & World Report study, provides a firm foundation on which the Engineering School plans to build. The school is planning to raise $14 million in new funding to construct a building to house the new center, according to Richard W. Miksad, dean of the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science.
As currently envisioned, the new structure will rise three stories high and cover 40,000 square feet, linking two existing buildings, Materials Science and Engineering, and Chemical Engineering. Hull attributed the University of Virginia's success in winning the grant to a team effort with contributions from John Bean, professor of electrical engineering; James Groves, Robert A. Johnson, Gary Shiflet and Haydn Wadley, professors of materials science and engineering; Joe Poon, professor of physics; and Carolyn Vallas, director of the Engineering School's Office of Minority Programs.
Collaborators from IBM Research also played a central role in getting the grant, Hull said.
Working with industry
According to the NSF, the new centers' mission is to work closely with industry to identify and address key obstacles to future materials development. Much of the work takes place at the nanoscale level -- about 1,000th the width of a human hair -- which requires specialized equipment and expertise to create new properties with the potential to revolutionize consumer and industrial products.
The National Science Foundation currently supports 29 centers with a total annual investment of $52.5 million.