Public Release: 

NSF grant supports Materials Research Science and Engineering Center

Brown University

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The National Science Foundation has awarded Brown University a six-year, $9.4-million grant to fund the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), one of 29 research and education centers nationwide that investigate new materials for commercial use as well as train the next generation of materials scientists.

Brown's Division of Engineering established its MSREC in 1996, one of the earliest centers in the United States.

The award will support research and teaching by 20 Brown faculty members, most in engineering but also faculty from biology and physics. Their research falls into three categories:

How thin films are made and how they behave under stress. Metal films, which carry and control electrical currents, are used extensively in computers, cell phones and other electronics. A new line of research will focus on how to control the formation of small-scale structures - groups of atoms of silicon and other materials - that can be used to produce better semiconductors, a key ingredient in computer chips.

How complex multiphase materials, such as combinations of metals and ceramics, can bend, buckle or break. The goal is to create more durable materials for use in jet engines or automotive parts.

How human cells stick together or to other surfaces, such as polymers or metals. Because cell adhesion plays a role in how wounds heal and cancer spreads, this basic research could one day help create better medical tests and treatments.

"We will be applying good science and good engineering to challenging technical problems," said William Curtin, professor of engineering at Brown and director of the MSREC. "The ideas we generate at the center will not only go out to the scientific community, but to industry as well. The work can be applied to make better products we use and rely on every day."

The MRSEC also has an educational mission. Through the center, Brown undergraduate engineering students deliver hands-on science lessons on materials and mechanics at elementary and middle schools across Rhode Island. Teachers, meanwhile, come to Brown for science and engineering workshops that help them improve classroom lessons. So me even spend summers working side-by-side with faculty to conduct research.

Undergraduates from Brown and other universities and colleges, many of them minority students, also spend summers working in campus laboratories. The goal is to attract and mentor under-represented students in the sciences.


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