NSF Awards Center for Nanostructured Materials $7.2 Million

Macro Money for Nano Research
Columbia Engineering News
, Spring 2003

The National Science Foundation awarded Columbia's Center for Nanostructured Materials $7.2 million for an additional six years of research by a multidisciplinary team of university, industrial and national laboratory scientists and engineers. Irving Herman, professor of applied physics, is director of the MRSEC (Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, pronounced mer-seck).

Research at the Center, which includes an interdisciplinary research group led by Prof. Louis Brus of the Chemistry Department, is leading to novel thin films of nanoparticles. This is one of two major nanocenters at Columbia managed by the School.

"Our MRSEC is one of the reasons why Columbia has become very strong in nanoscience and nanotechnology," said Herman. "The Center is now working with oxide nanocrystals, their synthesis and properties and, once the nanocrystals are aligned to create thin films, we are studying the properties of the films," he said. The Center was first established by a $4.3 million NSF grant in 1998, bringing together Engineering's Departments of Applied Physics & Applied Mathematics, Chemical Engineering and Electrical Engineering, the Henry Krumb School of Mines, and Chemistry and Physics from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

"We are creating an infrastructure that allows all disciplines doing research in materials science to have access to both equipment and ideas," said Herman, "and the collaboration is having a synergistic effect." The Center also has strong research ties to IBM's Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights and DuPont.

In addition to basic research, the grant funds important educational components that include sponsoring summer research programs for undergraduates. Prof. Siu-Wai Chan of the Materials Science and Engineering interdisciplinary program jointly run by the Department of Applied Physics & Applied Mathematics and the Henry Krumb School of Mines, leads an outreach program in which undergraduates and graduate students demonstrate the wonders of materials science to high school students in New York City schools.

"We have steaming liquid nitrogen, fire, space shuttle tiles, and memory alloys," said Chan, "and they absolutely love the demos! The students are a challenging bunch but we generally win them over by the end of the demo-period. Most of them will move from their distant position in the class to the front to get a better view."

"We tell them the types of careers they can pursue with a science and engineering education and we like to keep in touch with the teachers involved and follow up one or two years later to see if any of their students decided to make science a career. We've been doing this since 1999 and I know the demonstrations have raised student awareness of science," said Chan.

Engineering students also benefit by becoming comfortable with public speaking. "All in all, the high school visiting program is a win-win-win situation," said Chan, "and we have plans to extend it to middle and grade schools. I am especially proud of this program because a number of my mentors and collaborators graduated from the New York City's K-12 education system and this is a way for me to give back." Herman has observed an unexpected bonus: graduate students working with high school students "love it and grow with the experience."

Related article
Columbia News: National Science Foundation Renews Materials Research Science and Engineering Center


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