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Collaborative Science and Engineering

Pioneering research center receives $16.2 million from National Science Foundation

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September 8, 2011 | by Megan Fellman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Northwestern University a six-year, $16.2 million grant for support of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), one of the oldest interdisciplinary research centers in the nation.

The Northwestern center, which integrates educational activities with a scientific research program, is one of six Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers in the nation to successfully renew support from the NSF this fiscal year. Three new MRSECs also received funding.

Founded in 1960, the center now provides to Northwestern scientists and engineers an infrastructure and environment for designing, synthesizing and characterizing transformative new nanoscale materials and for exploring new device concepts.

“The Northwestern University MRSEC has a long tradition of exceptional research, outreach and educational programs,” said center director Monica Olvera de la Cruz. “Our efforts have resulted in outstanding contributions to society, which we look forward to enhancing during the new funding cycle of the center.”

Olvera de la Cruz is the Lawyer Taylor Professor of Materials Science and Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The center’s goals include understanding the fundamental principles and behaviors of complex nanomaterials systems, transferring research results into new technologies and industries, and initiating collaborations with national and international partners. In particular, the center has strong collaborative ties with Argonne National Laboratory.

Possible applications of the nanomaterials being studied include new information processing capabilities, high-performance electronic devices that are both flexible and transparent and new sensing technologies.

The center also has introduced art conservation science to the center’s research portfolio through collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago. The efforts involve using scientific tools to examine art materials or objects, such as an ancient jade sculpture from the museum’s collection. 

The MRSEC oversees and provides support for 16 shared user facilities and laboratories occupying more than 25,000 square feet of space on the Evanston campus. Northwestern’s materials research community as well as external users in industry and academia utilize the facilities and their state-of-the-art equipment.

Center members represent eight departments in the McCormick School and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and more than 500 students use the shared facilities each year.

In addition to its pioneering research, the center provides educational and outreach opportunities for students and educators, including summer research programs for undergraduate students and high school teachers. The MRSEC also sponsors an after-school mentoring program for at-risk students at Chute Middle School in Evanston and works with Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development to provide learning experiences to gifted students from across the country.