The Center for Nanoscale Science, a National Science Foundation-funded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at Penn State, has been awarded a six-year, $15 million grant to continue research on materials at the nanoscale.
MRSECs are funded to support materials research that would be beyond the scope of one or a few investigators. By funding long-term multi-investigator projects, NSF promotes an interdisciplinary approach to address fundamental problems in science and engineering. In Penn State's Center for Nanoscale Science, four distinct interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs) will develop new classes of materials through predictive modeling, newly developed methods of synthesis at the nanoscale, and advanced methods of testing and characterizing materials and devices.
The four topics to be addressed include designing functionality into a class of materials called layered oxide ferroics, which can change shape in response to electrical signals and could be used for tunable microwave devices, energy storage, piezo-transistors, and high-temperature magnetoelectrics; new types of autonomously powered nano- and micro-motors that can sense their environment and react in a collective fashion that mimics living microorganisms; high-pressure enabled electronic metalattices that can squeeze electrons into new forms of behavior for solar cells, light-emitting devices, and improved thermoelectrics; and electrically and optically active particles organized into materials that guide light and electrons to create lasers, tiny antennas, and the building blocks for next-generation computer vision.
"Thirty seven faculty members across seven departments and three colleges at Penn State, plus eight faculty members at partner institutions around the world will join their diverse backgrounds in pursuit of these ambitious goals," said Vincent Crespi, director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Distinguished Professor of Physics, Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering. "The Center for Nanoscale Science also supports high-risk, high-reward seed projects from faculty across the University. Seed projects have continuously rejuvenated and redirected the mission of the MRSEC."
Projects sponsored by industry partners build on and extend Center research in each of the four IRGs, with sponsored projects contributing around $500,000 annually. Research in the Center has resulted in more than 450 publications and patents since 2008, when the previous group of IRGs was funded. The Center also develops educational programs in collaboration with the Franklin Institute that have reached over 100,000 museum visitors and thousands of elementary age students and science campers. These science outreach projects involve all Center students and postdocs, giving them valuable skills in communicating their research to inspire future scientists and engineers and educate the general public in the importance of science to society.