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U.Va. Wins One Of Four New National Science Foundation Centers

September 27, 2000 -- The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today it will establish four new Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSECs), including one at the University of Virginia, that will explore innovative materials and further the integration of research and education in the field of materials science.

In addition to the center at U.Va., funded with a $5 million grant, the three other new centers will be located at the California Institute of Technology, the University of Oklahoma/University of Arkansas and Pennsylvania State University. The NSF will invest $24 million in the centers over five years.

"We're pleased and gratified at this vote of confidence by the NSF," said Richard W. Miksad, dean of U.Va.’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. " Only 20 or so of these grants are in effect at any given time and we were selected to receive one in vigorous competition with the nation's top research universities."

The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center grant will strengthen U.Va.’s position at the forefront of materials research in areas ranging from novel electronic devices to fabrication of materials at the atomic level. It also will serve as an educational resource for both high school and university students, said Robert Hull, principal investigator and professor of materials science and engineering.

"The center will allow us to recruit two new outstanding young faculty members and bring together about 10 current faculty members from several departments," Hull said. "The funds also will allow a dozen top graduate students to work in the center, as well as providing research experience for several dozen undergraduates."

The Center for Nanoscopic Design at the University of Virginia will explore theassembly of highly perfected nanoscale structures. Applications include quantum dot electronics, biological templating and nanoscale control of electrochemical reactions.

Each award is granted initially for five years with continued NSF support possible after a competitive review. The new centers also will seek support from state government and private industry.

The MRSEC award to U.Va.’s Materials Science Department, which is ranked 21st in the country in the most recent U.S. News & World Report study, provides a firm foundation on which the Engineering School plans to build. The school is planning to raise $14 million in new funding to construct a building to house the new center, according to Miksad. As currently envisioned, the new structure will rise three stories high and cover 40,000 square feet, linking two existing buildings, Materials Science and Engineering, and Chemical Engineering.

Hull attributed U.Va.’s success in winning the MRSEC grant to an interdisciplinary team effort with important contributions from John Bean, professor of electrical engineering; James Groves, Robert A. Johnson, Gary Shiflet and Haydn Wadley, professors of materials science and engineering; Joe Poon, professor of physics; and Carolyn Vallas, director of the Engineering School's Office of Minority Programs.

Collaborators from IBM Research also played a central role in securing the grant, Hull said.

According to the NSF, the new centers’ mission is to work closely with industry to identify and address key obstacles to future materials development. Much of the work takes place at the nanoscale level — about 1,000th the width of a human hair -- which requires specialized equipment and expertise to create new properties wth the potential to revolutionize consumer and industrial products.

"The products of modern materials research impact our economy and our everyday lives," said Thomas Weber, director of NSF's Division of Materials Research. "The centers address fundamental science and engineering problems in the creation of new materials. They also provide students a highly interdisciplinary education that is prized by potential employers in industry, academia and government."

NSF currently supports 29 MRSECs with a total annual investment of $52.5 million.

Each center focuses on a specialized area such as polymers, biomolecular, electronic or superconducting materials. They integrate their research and educational programs by involving students in research activities and contributing courses and materials to the academic institutions.

Scientific advances that have come out of MRSECs include new types of magnetic devices for information storage, nanoparticle assemblies linked by DNA, a superelastic form of the widely used plastic polypropylene and the ability to induce chemical reactions on a chip.

NSF also announced new awards for 11 existing materials centers, for a total of $110 million over five years. They are located at Brown University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland/Rutgers University, Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania, State University of New York at Stony Brook and the University of Wisconsin.

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858


FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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