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Materials Research Science and Engineering Center Receives $15.6 Million Grant

Center is among the longest continually funded materials research centers in the nation

Home to the first materials science and engineering department in the world, Northwestern University continues to cement itself as a leader in the field. 

The University’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, which is among the longest continually funded materials research centers in the country, has received a six-year, $15.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The center, which integrates educational activities with a scientific research program, is one of eight Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers in the nation to be funded by the NSF this year.

The Northwestern University Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (NU-MRSEC) advances world-class materials research, education, and outreach through active interdisciplinary collaborations within the Center and with external partners in academia, industry, national laboratories, and museums, both domestically and abroad.

Mark C. Hersam“Northwestern has cultivated a culture of interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty across different departments for nearly six decades,” said center director Mark C. Hersam, Walter P. Murphy Professor in Materials Science and Engineering. “Reflecting this tradition, the proposed NU-MRSEC draws faculty from seven departments across two schools at Northwestern, along with key partnerships with DePaul University, Argonne National Laboratory, and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University.”

The intellectual merit of the NU-MRSEC resides primarily within its two complementary interdisciplinary research groups: one that explores reconfigurable nanoelectronic materials systems with potential applications in neuromorphic, or brain-like, computing, and another that aims to discover new inorganic materials with unconventional combinations of properties — such as high electrical conductivity and low thermal conductivity — by integrating synthesis, characterization, and computational methods. The NU-MRSEC will also support seed projects to take advantage of emerging research opportunities.

Center members also transfer research results into new technologies and industries, as well as use the process of discovery as a powerful teaching tool in the classroom and community.

“The Center has a strong track record of transitioning its fundamental materials discoveries to successful commercial outcomes, including seven startup companies with nearly 300 employees in the previous funding period,” Hersam said.

The NU-MRSEC introduces the latest developments from its interdisciplinary research groups to the general public and students at all levels, including K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellows. In addition to its long running Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, the Center is currently developing a new REU+ program for underrepresented participants from small colleges to attend Northwestern as domestic exchange students during the academic year.

In addition to its pioneering research and educational endeavors, the NU-MRSEC oversees and provides support for 18 shared facilities and laboratories comprising 25,000 square feet of space on campus.

“Overall, the Center provides access and training to more than 175 different instruments to both on-campus and external users,” Hersam said. “This directly affects 600 members of the Northwestern community and 125 external institutions.”