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Materials Research Center Receives NSF Funding

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November 15, 2005 | by Megan Fellman

Northwestern’s Materials Research Center (MRC) has received funding totaling $12.8 million for the next six years from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The MRC, which integrates educational activities with a scientific research program, is one of 11 Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSECs) in the nation to successfully renew support from the NSF this fiscal year.

Northwestern faculty, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from the departments of chemistry, chemical and biological engineering, electrical engineering and computer science, materials science and engineering, mechanical engineering, and physics and astronomy will be involved in the NSF-funded proposal, titled “Multifunctional Nanoscale Material Structures.”

Research will focus on materials synthesis, processing, characterization, theory and modeling. Through the combined use of nanotechnology and innovative processing techniques and guided by advanced computational methods and simulation, scientists and engineers will design, synthesize, characterize and apply new materials to improve our environment and infrastructure and to help solve problems in areas ranging from energy efficiency to information processing.

The MRC is one of the oldest interdisciplinary research centers in the nation, dating back to 1958. As part of a national network of more than two dozen MRSECs, the MRC investigates fundamental materials research topics of intellectual and technological importance, contributes to national priorities by fostering active collaboration between academia and other sectors, and enables researchers to address broad and complex problems by providing an interdisciplinary environment and a wide variety of resources.

The MRC oversees and provides support for 16 shared user facilities and laboratories on the Evanston campus. These facilities are of critical importance to external users in industry and academia and to the whole materials research community at Northwestern as more than 80 percent of users are not involved in MRC-supported research. In cooperation with the Office of Industry Relations at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, the center networks with corporations to provide access to center facilities.

The MRC reaches out to the community by hosting important educational programs to promote scientific interest for a variety of age groups. In partnership with the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern, the MRC offered its first course on materials engineering design during the summer of 2005. Last spring, the MRC collaborated with lead science teacher Richard MacHarg at Chute Middle School in Evanston to create an after-school science program for 7th and 8th graders.

Key leadership of the center is provided by center director John Torkelson, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and of Materials Science and Engineering, and an executive committee. The committee includes Michael Bedzyk, professor of materials science and engineering; Donald Ellis, professor of physics and astronomy; George Schatz, Morrison Professor of Chemistry; and Bruce Wessels, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and chair of the electrical engineering and computer science department.