The International Materials Institute for New Functionalities in Glass (IMI-NFG) has received a second five-year contract from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to increase the visibility of glass across the globe while encouraging more students to pursue careers in a field that historically has been low in numbers.
The new grant, awarded after a national competition, totals $3.75 million and will be matched in part by support from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., where the IMI-NFG is headquartered. The institute is a partnership involving Lehigh and Penn State University. Himanshu Jain, the Diamond Chair Professor of materials science and engineering at Lehigh, is principal investigator, while Carlo Pantano, director of Penn State's Materials Research Institute, is co-principal investigator.
Glass is a key component in automobiles, skyscrapers, airplanes, TVs, and fiber optics and nuclear technologies. Indeed, says Jain, glass plays a critical role in most of the 14 "grand challenges" that, according to the National Academy of Engineering, human beings need to solve in the 21st century. These include making solar energy economical, providing access to clean water, and preventing nuclear terror.
In its first five years, the IMI-NFG has built a global reputation for teaching, research and outreach. The institute maintains ties with scientists and engineers in 32 countries and provides support for university students across the U.S. to travel to overseas schools and for foreign scientists to conduct glass research in the U.S. Altogether, the institute has sponsored more than 80 research exchanges, awarded 43 international conference travel grants to U.S. students, and has arranged for 46 students to take part in REU (research experience for undergraduates) programs.
All in all, says Jain, more than 450 people from six continents have partipicated in IMI-NFG activities.
The IMI-NFG maintains active research programs in a range of topics and is especially active in biomedical glasses, glass strength and low-melting glass. The institute is expanding efforts to overcome one of the main shortfalls of glass--its brittleness and lack of strength.
In 2007, the IMI-NFG teamed with five other U.S. universities to offer a semester-long web-based course titled "Characterization and Structure of Glass." Twenty-eight students from seven schools enrolled in this novel application of multi-institution team teaching (MITT), and 30 more audited it. Another MITT course was taught from Clemson University and a new course on relaxation in glass will be offered next spring. All classes have been filmed and the videos posted to the IMI-NFG's online Global Glass Library, which now contains more than 200 video lectures accessible via the Internet.
In January 2008, the IMI-NFG sponsored a Winter School in Japan. Fifteen students from U.S. universities spent two weeks in Kyoto attending lectures and field trips with their Japanese peers. The IMI-NFG has organized a second all-expenses-paid Winter School to be held in January 2010 in Hangzhou, China.
In the fall of 2008, Jain and Pantano co-taught a short course on glass to 15 students at Tuskegee University, a historically black school in Alabama. The institute has formed a collaboration with Arizona State University, which is funding an inner-city program for students. And it conducts educational programs at the Da Vinci Science Center, a local science museum.
The IMI-NFG is guided by an industry board of advisers that includes representatives from the world's six largest glass companies--Corning and PPG Industries Inc. (U.S.), Schott (Germany), Saint Gobain (France), and Asahi Glass and Nippon Glass (Japan)--as well as the Glass Manufacturing Industry Council (GMIC). An international board of advisers contains members from Brazil, China, Egypt, France, India, Japan, Portugal and the United Kingdom. A U.S. board of advisers includes representatives of eight U.S. universities in addition to Lehigh, Penn State and Tuskegee.
The IMI-NFG's outreach programs and the scientific exchanges, says Jain, are aimed in part at boosting the number of people choosing to pursue careers in science and engineering, especially glass science and technology. In the last few decades, he says, glass research has become "fragmented" as industrial labs have shut down and funding has shifted to nanotechnology and bioscience. As a result, no single school can boast a strong roster of glass experts or a a wide array of courses in glass science.