Materials Research Science and Engineering Center receives renewed NSF funding

July 17, 2020
Maureen McMahon

The National Science Foundation has renewed funding for the University of Chicago's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC). UChicago was one of 19 institutions nationwide to receive MRSEC funding from the NSF in this round of competition, with total support exceeding $342 million. Three new MRSECs were also established in the 2020 Class.

Founded in 1961 as the Interdisciplinary Laboratory, and renamed in 1994, the UChicago MRSEC is a strategic trans-disciplinary research hub that tackles some of the deepest intellectual challenges of materials research central to priority industries through highly collaborative efforts united to a strong commitment to education and outreach.

Inside the MRSEC lab of Prof. Cheng Chin

Collaborating on research ideas at conception, it has established a multidisciplinary approach to investigating materials formed far from equilibrium, exploring new paradigms for material fabrication and response, and exploiting feedback between structure and dynamics. These overarching goals, common to all of the center’s Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs), are to produce the design principles for the next generation of materials. 

The first research thrust for the 2020 funds, aligned with the NSF Big Idea - Understanding the Rules of Life, is discovering new materials whose properties are essential to emerging technologies; outcomes will advance the mastery of synthetic biological systems including advances in artificial muscles.

A second research thrust is exploring materials containing distributed molecular engines enabling new classes of materials that can spontaneously deform and flow: the future vision of this research is to design and build shape-morphing hybrid materials with programmable and self-regulating properties. The resulting materials platform will have impact in sensing, actuation, separations, and biodesign, adding innovation to synthetic materials biology.

A third effort, aligned with the NSF Big Idea - Quantum Leap, focuses on new materials needed for the creation of integrated quantum circuits, developing new methodologies to control quantum information. The outreach and education activities are designed to communicate research results broadly, to foster professional development of students and to strengthen interest in science in the public.

The renewed funds for the UChicago MRSEC will impact graduate students, faculty, and the industries their discoveries innovate. “Materials are enablers of technologies that directly affect people’s lives,” says Dr. Linda Sapochak, Director of the NSF Division of Materials Research. “The MRSEC program is a flagship program for the Division and with these new awards will continue its long history of forging new discoveries and fueling new technologies.”

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