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National Science Foundation Renews Materials Research Science and Engineering Center

By Joseph Kennedy

Chemical Engineering major Andrew Miller (SEAS) using the x-ray photoelectron spectrometer (XPS) in the MRSEC Shared Facilities Laboratory.
(Photo credit: Jared Cross)

The National Science Foundation has renewed Columbia's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center [MRSEC] for six years, with a budget of $7.2 million. The MRSEC, established in 1998, is called the Center for Nanostructured Materials. Its director is Irving P. Herman of the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics.

The MRSEC program has helped make Columbia a recognized force in the worlds of materials and nanotechnology. Research in the Center occurs in an interdisciplinary research group [IRG] led by Louis Brus in the Department of Chemistry. It focuses on learning how to form nanocrystals made of metal oxides and how to form films from these nanocrystals.

Nanocrystals are small chunks of a crystal, several nanometers in diameter, containing about a thousand atoms. They are of interest because they often have properties very different from those of the bulk material, and these properties can sometimes be tuned by changing the size of the nanocrystal. The IRG draws faculty with diverse expertise from five departments in The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Graduate School of Arts and Science: Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Physics, and Electrical Engineering. It also has strong research interactions with the IBM TJ Watson Research Center and City College of New York.

The Center runs a Shared Materials Instrument Facility in the Schapiro Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research. It also operates a diverse education outreach effort that includes research experiences for undergraduates (REU) and teachers (RET). The RET program is run in conjunction with the Columbia Summer Research Program for NYC Science Teachers at the Health Sciences campus.

In addition, Siu-Wai Chan, of the Materials Science and Engineering Program in the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, leads an MRSEC outreach program that presents live demonstrations of materials science for students in New York City high schools.

The National Science Foundation operates the MRSEC program with 29 centers at an annual budget of $51 million. The research in MRSEC covers a broad spectrum of materials science and engineering, with about 20 percent of the activity being in nanomaterials.

MRSECs must compete for renewal in an open competition that occurs every three years. Approximately half of the centers participated in the most recent competition. Eleven of them were renewed and three new centers were established.

The Columbia MRSEC is administered by the Columbia Center for Integrated Science and Engineering (ISE), which also administers two other large interdepartmental centers: the Environmental Molecular Sciences Institute (EMSI, founded in 1998) and the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC, founded in 2001). These three centers have strongly contributed to Columbia's increasing prominence in the physical sciences and engineering.

Cost sharing support for the MRSEC comes from the University and from the New York State office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR).

Published: Feb 10, 2003
Last modified: Feb 13, 2003

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