Contact: Bob Nelson
(212) 854-6580
For immediate release
October 7, 1998

Columbia Awarded $10 Million in NSF Funding

Centers in Materials Science, Environmental Chemistry To Investigate Thin Films, Transport of Pollutants

	The National Science Foundation announced Wednesday (Oct. 7) that it has 
awarded Columbia University nearly $10 million over five years to open two new 
interdisciplinary centers, one in materials science and one in environmental 
chemistry, devoted to basic research.
	The materials science work is expected to contribute to technologies that 
may be the basis of the next revolution in computing and communications.  The 
environmental chemistry institute will help chemical, automotive and electronics 
firms around the world cope with problems of industrial waste disposal.
	Both centers will open vital new fields of research to Columbia scientists 
and engineers.  Materials scientists will look at thin films containing tiny 
particles of semiconductors and metals bound by organic molecules and polymers 
as components of a new generation of high-density magnetic storage and optical 
communications devices.  Environmental researchers will examine how 
chemical pollutants and heavy metals move through soils and waters and will 
develop new tools to predict and repair contamination.  They will propose 
strategies to improve the operation of such local sites as the Fresh Kills landfill on 
Staten Island and the North River Sewage Treatment Plant on the Hudson River.
	Officials in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Fu Foundation 
School of Engineering and Applied Science, Barnard College and the Columbia 
Earth Institute learned in August that the NSF had approved the two centers.
Columbia's proposals were among the dozen selected as materials centers and 
among the three selected for environmental chemistry centers in the highly 
contested competitions.
	"This success demonstrates the great potential Columbia has in materials 
science and in environmental research, especially when investigators from many 
disciplines are brought together," said Peter Eisenberger, Vice Provost for the 
Columbia Earth Institute.
	The NSF will contribute $4.3 million over four years to the materials science 
center and, in a joint program with the federal Department of Energy, $4.98 
million over five years to the environmental center.  The federal agency will 
consider another round of funding in materials science after four years, but the 
environmental program is non-renewable.
	Researchers at both centers expect to use this support to attract funding 
from foundations and corporations, and already have industrial partners who 
will contribute funding and expertise.  University matching funds will be made 
available, from the Vice Provost's Strategic Research Initiative, the Columbia 
Earth Institute and from the engineering and arts and sciences schools, totaling 
$637,000 for the materials program and $600,000 for environmental chemistry.  In 
addition, the University will support several graduate students and minority 
undergraduate summer interns in each program.
	The materials science center, to be called the Materials Research Science 
and Engineering Center (MRSEC) after the NSF's name for its funding program, 
will be headed by Irving Herman, professor of applied physics.  Louis Brus, 
professor of chemistry, who pioneered the field of semiconductor nanoparticles at 
Bell Laboratories, will direct the center's interdisciplinary research group.  NSF 
named eleven other universities to house materials science centers:  University of 
Alabama; University of Chicago; University of Colorado, Boulder; Harvard; 
University of Kentucky; University of Massachusetts, Amherst; MIT; Michigan 
State; University of Minnesota; Princeton and a consortium of Stanford, 
University of California, Davis and IBM Almaden.
	The Columbia materials center will be coupled to research programs with 
complementary strengths at other New York area institutions, including City
College of New York, Allied Signal Corp., IBM Corp. and the Bell Laboratories
unit of Lucent Technologies, Inc.
	Columbia has strengths especially well suited to the work, in the study of 
materials chemistry at the atomic scale and in creating interdisciplinary 
research teams to investigate basic science that overlaps several disciplines, Prof. 
Herman said.  Departments involved in the center will include chemistry, physics 
and materials science.  "It's essential that researchers have the opportunity to 
explore how these systems work before embarking on designing devices," he said.  
"No far-reaching technological change ever has been accomplished without this 
basic understanding."
	The environmental center, to be called the Environmental Molecular 
Science Institute (EMSI), also named after its funding program, will be headed by 
George Flynn, Higgins Professor of Chemistry, and will be administered as part 
of the Columbia Earth Institute.  Columbia's research station at Biosphere 2 in 
Oracle, Ariz., also will participate, possibly offering courses related to the 
environmental research.  Research will be conducted in the departments of 
chemistry, physics, applied physics, electrical engineering and earth and 
environmental science at Columbia, and the environmental science department 
at Barnard.  The joint NSF and DOE program also made similar awards to 
Northwestern and Princeton universities.
	The environmental center will unite Columbia's traditional strengths in 
chemistry, geological sciences, physics, applied physics and electrical 
engineering, and will bring together researchers from academic departments at 
Columbia and Barnard as well as Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, 
Columbia's earth sciences campus in Palisades, N.Y.  Scientists will collaborate 
with three research groups at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, 
part of DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.
	Columbia expects to use the environmental chemistry institute as a seed for 
future efforts, to be coordinated by the Columbia Earth Institute, to develop a 
university-wide base for fundamental research in environmental science.  The 
institute's industrial partners include DuPont de Nemours & Company, IBM 
Corp., GE Corporate Research and Development, and INRAD, a manufacturer of 
scientific instruments in Northvale, N.J. 
	"Columbia's commitment to global ecological problems through the
Columbia Earth Institute places the new Environmental Molecular Science 
Institute in an enviable position to attack the premier scientific and technological 
issue of the 21st century:  understanding the environment!" Prof. Flynn said.
	Both centers will develop outreach programs to involve women and 
minority students at the graduate and undergraduate levels.  The environmental 
center will develop new graduate and undergraduate courses, such as 
environmental chemistry, to be team taught by participating faculty, and will 
develop case studies and laboratory materials to be used in existing courses.  Both 
the Fresh Kills landfill and the North River plant will serve as convenient sites for 
undergraduate and graduate field trips, providing nearly unlimited access to 
real-world soil and water samples.
	The materials center is to create an undergraduate course for liberal arts
majors at Columbia and conduct outreach to elementary and high schools.  Both 
centers also will take advantage of existing research fellowships and summer 
study programs to attract interested students.
	"We want to get people excited about materials," Prof. Herman said.  "They 
are important in so many different areas.  If we can affect just some of the kids in 
New York City schools, we will have justified the program." 
	The materials science center will build on advances in the production of 
thin films of semiconductors, metals and polymers.  Organic and inorganic 
materials already have been combined in certain limited applications - the field 
is known as "heterogeneous thin films" - but recent research indicates the 
potential for many new device concepts in which organic and inorganic materials
play a much greater functional role.
	Researchers affiliated with the materials center, to be housed in part in the 
Schapiro Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research, will investigate 
new types of integrated chemical films that include tiny particles of inorganic 
materials - either metals, magnetic solids or semiconductors - embedded in an 
organic polymer.  Such tiny particles, called nanoparticles, are about 50 
angstroms - a few molecules - in diameter, and can have dramatically 
different properties than larger chunks of the same material.  It may even be 
possible to "tune" such organic and inorganic combinations, to change the 
properties of the material - such as its light-emitting properties, conductivity or
magnetism - by changing the organic polymer or other features.
	For example, the wavelength of light emitted by nanoparticles can be
adjusted by changing the size of the nanoparticles, creating pulses of light in 
whatever wavelength is desired.  Such a technology could be invaluable in fiber 
optic communications, or in an eventual light-based computer.  Particles also 
could be ordered in clever arrays, such as carefully-designed three-dimensional 
systems, that could have special light-emitting or magnetic properties.
	While most scientific discussions of environmental pollutants have taken 
place at the macroscopic scale, involving factors such as soil permeability, 
scientists now have the capability to examine transport, reactivity and decay of 
pollutants at the molecular level.  Part of the new institute's challenge will be to 
take molecular-level information and make it useful at real-world scales.
	The key problem shared by landfills, waste treatment plants and industrial 
facilities is the chemical fate and transport properties of organic materials and 
heavy metals as they move through soils, and how water and biological catalysts 
affect them.  For example, a major source of pollutants in the automobile industry 
is the foundry sand used for the metal casting of automotive parts.  Organic 
materials and heavy metals eventually leach from the sands, which at 1.5 million 
tons account for the largest quantity of solid waste generated by the auto industry.  
Yet little is known about how or why the materials bind to sand or eventually 
unbind.  Similar problems beset the Fresh Kills landfill and the DOE's nuclear 
waste disposal site at Hanford, Wash.

This document is available at Working press may receive science and technology press releases via e-mail by sending a message to

10.7.98	 									19,397