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News Release 96-058

NSF Invests $105 Million in New Materials Research Centers

October 10, 1996

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has made 13 awards for Materials Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC), bringing to 24 the number of centers nationwide that support materials research and education over a broad spectrum. NSF support for these new centers will amount to $105 million over the next five years.

Tom Weber, director of NSF's Division of Materials Research, explained that the centers encourage research of broad scope and complexity. "With these awards, we encouraged investigators to take risks, and to spot new developments in materials research," said Weber. The centers will ultimately become a national network of university-based centers.

The new awards complete NSF's transition to the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers program, which replaces the Materials Research Laboratories and Materials Research Groups. The new centers meet the traditional criteria of top-notch research and strong interaction among disciplines, but also stress the relevance of research to society and technology. "The centers still do fundamental research, but they are linked much more explicitly to industry and other sectors," said Weber. The centers integrate graduate and undergraduate education with their research, and many of them also support pre-college education.

Awards for the new centers were based on intellectual breadth of research and the ability to stimulate interdisciplinary education. They are also fully integrated with the academic programs of participating institutions.

NSF invests more than $43 million per year in the 24 centers' research and education. Competition was intense for the new awards, which are made initially for up to five years, with competitive review at the fourth year and again every four years thereafter. The next competition is set for fiscal year 1998.

The new awards at a glance:

  • Arizona State University ($4.18 million/56 months): Research addresses new phases of materials, such as glasses, using high pressure techniques; investigators are also designing team-taught materials education courses.

  • Brown University ($5.35 million/56 months): Research focuses on how fracture and deformation occur by examining micromechanics and nanomechanics of materials; the center will involve nationwide outreach to junior high and high school students.

  • University of California at Santa Barbara ($13.75 million/55 months): The center's broad program targets research on molecular and atomic interfaces of soft materials, such as plastics and colloids, and complex materials, and supports a vigorous educational partnership program with area school districts.

  • Carnegie Mellon University ($3.57 million/57 months): Research pursues a greater understanding of the properties of polycrystalline materials through the "Mesoscale Interface Mapping Project." This project uses automated microscopic techniques to map grain boundaries in metal alloys and ceramics, which are important in understanding strength, failure or fracture of materials.

  • Cornell University ($17.75 million/54 months): Research in this center ranges from fundamental condensed matter science to materials with potential technological application, such as thin films on glass, which are important to display materials and novel optical materials; the center strongly emphasizes shared facilities accessible to a wide range of users.

  • University of Houston ($4.14 million/56 months): The research advances the basic science and engineering needed to design, synthesize and process new materials for fuel cells, catalytic reactors, and membrane reactors; the center focuses on the industrial context of new materials developments.

  • Johns Hopkins University ($3.45 million/52 months): Research addresses the design of novel devices and structures, such as granular solids, as well as magnetic and superconducting materials with applications in communications; the center involves undergraduates extensively in its activities.

  • University of Maryland, College Park ($8.28 million/57 months): A common theme running through the center's research is the fundamental understanding and potential application of thin films and surfaces for electronic and photonic purposes; the center emphasizes the involvement of young women and minorities in science.

  • Northwestern University ($13.05 million/54 months): This broad-based program targets research on ultrahard coatings, novel semiconductors, electroceramic thin films, polymers and molecular materials. The center offers research opportunities for high school science teachers and is developing "Materials World Modules" for classroom use.

  • University of Pennsylvania ($13.5 million/54 months): This interdisciplinary program addresses research on polymers, liquid crystals colloids and emulsions, and emphasizes the interface between biological and materials science; the center offers wide opportunities for undergraduate research, and coordinates with the Princeton MRSEC.

  • SUNY at Stony Brook ($3.74 million/56 months): Research focuses on thermal spray coatings, which are crucial to the operation of many engineering components and systems; the center collaborates with MIT and a number of industrial laboratories.

  • SUNY at Stony Brook/Polytechnic University/City University of New York ($3.24 million/56 months): This diversified center is a partnership between SUNY, Polytechnic University, three CUNY colleges, Brookhaven National Laboratory and researchers at three industrial research laboratories; the focus is on the design of polymer interfaces and the program emphasizes research participation by undergraduates and gifted high school students.

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison ($10.56 million/56 months): Research targets the interfaces of superconducting materials and the growth of thin films for potential electronic and optical applications; the center also produces instructional materials for pre-college, college and graduate curricula.


Media Contacts
Cary Lee Hanes, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:
Lynn T. Simarski, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:

Program Contacts
W. Lance Haworth, NSF, (703) 292-4916, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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