New York University has received a $14.4 million, six-year grant from the National Science Foundation to expand its Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC).
NYU’s MRSEC, one of 24 such centers in the United States, is a multi-investigator, interdisciplinary collaboration dedicated to creating new materials by discovering, unraveling, and applying the fundamental organizing principles of matter.
The NSF intends its MRSEC network to serve as flagships for cutting-edge materials research in the United States by addressing fundamental problems in science and engineering.
Overall, the goal of the NYU MRSEC is to understand and improve the properties of the astonishingly complex materials of everyday life, including food, ceramics, cements, pharmaceutical formulations, organic displays, solar cells, and many other technologies, with an eye toward optimizing mechanical properties such as mouth feel or fracture resistance, improving the transport of electrons, light or heat, and stabilizing therapeutic agents.
The new grant was awarded based on a proposal spearheaded by faculty from the Molecular Design Institute in NYU’s Department of Chemistry and from the Center for Soft Matter Research in NYU’s Department of Physics.
The NYU MRSEC was established under an NSF grant in 2008. Since its inception, it has made multiple advances that blend chemistry, physics, mathematics, and engineering. These breakthroughs include:
• DNA-directed assembly of microstructures and microcircuits
• Discovering rules that govern how particles with a wide range of shapes fill space
• Creating a new generation of specially shaped microscopic particles that can assemble into customized three-dimensional structures
• Inventing microscopic particles that swim like bacteria when activated by light while transporting cargo from place-to-place
• Designing new drugs that inhibit crystal growth in the body and prevent the formation of kidney stones
• Assembling microscopic building blocks into functional structures using the forces exerted by optical holograms
• Synthesizing molecules that inhibit ice formation below freezing
The new grant doubles the size of the 2008 award, permitting the Center to expand its mission—to investigate the pathways by which molecules and particles can be organized into materials. These developments would have promise in the advanced technology sectors, from pharmaceuticals to personal care products to new materials with unique optical properties.
One of the Center’s aims is to harness newly discovered insights into the formation of microscopic materials: that organization need not be orderly, that disorder need not be purely random, and that the materials arising from random organization across multiple scales can have properties surpassing those of crystals, which are the building blocks of many of today’s materials. It also seeks to elucidate the mechanisms by which complex molecules crystallize and how defects in crystals can regulate their growth. These activities unite scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in an effort to explore materials from the molecular to the macroscopic scale.
In addition to its research mission, NYU’s MRSEC will operate a Technology Partners Program, in which businesses ranging in size from multinational corporations to entrepreneurial startups will become members of the Center, collaborating with each other and with NYU faculty in non-competitive and directed research and helping to translate the Center’s discoveries and inventions to the commercial sector.
The NYU MRSEC also operates a seed program designed to cultivate junior faculty and bolster emerging areas of interdisciplinary research. The seed program played an important role under the previous award by encouraging collaborations and research directions that were essential to the growth of the Center.
Recognizing the importance of education and public awareness in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the NYU MRSEC operates several programs that benefit K-12 students and the New York City community, exposing students and teachers to materials science concepts. It provides summer research programs for high school students, delivering materials science lessons and teacher training on a mobile laboratory, and producing broadcast-quality popular science videos.
In a partnership with the Faculty Resource Network at NYU, the Center also operates a summer research program for visiting undergraduates and faculty, largely from four-year colleges and minority-serving institutions. In addition, NYU’s MRSEC contributes to the acquisition and operation of state-of-the-art instrumentation facilities that are linked to the Materials Facilities Research Network, including an array of electron, optical, and holographic microscopes that provide unique capabilities for users at NYU and beyond.
The NYU MRSEC assembles faculty investigators from several NYU schools and departments, including the Departments of Chemistry and Physics, the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, the Departments of Chemical, Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the Polytechnic School Engineering, and the College of Dentistry.