NSF awards renewed funding to UMN MRSEC through 2026

Aug. 31, 2020 - The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $18,000,000 in renewed funding to the University of Minnesota Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (UMN MRSEC) through 2026. The UMN MRSEC program is among 11 Centers nationwide receiving funding for successful collaborative research. This is the fourth renewal of the Minnesota MRSEC since its inception in 1998, with cumulative total funding exceeding $79 million from NSF. Regents Professor Timothy Lodge has served as MRSEC Director since 2005.

The UMN MRSEC is multifaceted and enables important areas of future technology, ranging from applications of electrical control over materials to scale-invariant shape-filling amphiphile network self-assembly. The UMN MRSEC features two interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs). The first group (IRG-1), led by McKnight Professor Chris Leighton, aims to access novel electronic and magnetic properties by direct application of strong local electric fields to promising new materials. This Quantum Leap-aligned research will realize extraordinary materials control, thereby enabling new approaches to low-power magnetic data storage and processing, neuro-inspired computation, and nanophotonic devices such as solar cells. The second group (IRG-2), led by Professor Mahesh Mahanthappa, is developing novel and systematic approaches to assembling polymeric materials into network structures with superior property combinations. These will advance multiple applications, including membranes for removal of viruses and bacteria, materials for new battery designs, therapeutic delivery platforms, and efficient photovoltaic materials. MRSEC investigators provide extensive research experiences for promising undergraduates from a national network of four-year colleges, minority serving institutions, and especially tribal colleges. Summer camps for high school students, drawn from the Twin Cities and from Native American communities across the upper Midwest, involve senior investigators, students, and postdoctoral fellows in hands-on laboratory activities. Entertaining demonstration shows to illustrate fundamental scientific principles engage over 50,000 K-12 students each year. Close interaction with industry involves knowledge transfer in a pre-competitive collaboration with over 20 companies. Shared experimental facilities provide access to state-of-the-art materials characterization instrumentation to a national base of over 500 users.

The NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) program provides sustained support of interdisciplinary materials research and education of the highest quality. Founded in 1994, the MRSEC program traces its roots to the Interdisciplinary Research Laboratories established in 1960. With a program investment of nearly $350 million over six years in emerging fields such as quantum materials, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence, MRSECs leverage diverse expertise in areas such as polymers, ceramics, and magnetic nanomaterials to forge new research endeavors driven by a vision of the materials of tomorrow.

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