The Materials Research Laboratory at UC Santa Barbara: an NSF MRSEC has received nearly $20 million in renewed support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to carry out distinctive research and education programs over the next six years. Renewed NSF support ensures the vitality of materials research programs at UCSB that address societal needs in energy, environment, and sustainability.
Despite the challenging budgetary climate, the NSF award recognizes the world-leading materials research at UCSB, as well as the MRL’s demonstrated commitment to broader community impact and its role in supporting entrepreneurship on the Central Coast, in making this crucial and substantial investment.
The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) is a flagship program that supports a national network of centers of excellence in materials research. The UCSB Materials Research Laboratory (MRL), which is one such Center, provides a unique environment for cutting-edge research that extends beyond the campus to involve industry, schools, and colleges in innovative long-term partnerships. With this award, the MRL is now the only supported MRSEC on the West Coast.
“We are delighted with the renewal which recognizes our achievements in research and education. This could not have come about without the dedicated participation of students, staff, and faculty,” says Craig Hawker, Director of the Materials Research Laboratory. “Competition for these flagship Centers is fierce. What sets materials research at UCSB apart is the emphasis on a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary research environment.”
The announcement coincides with the 20th anniversary of MRL’s launch at UCSB, which has been continuously supported by the NSF since 1992.
The NSF support will advance MRL research in materials that could result in new paradigms for energy-efficient microelectronics, and for the creation of adhesives and coatings inspired by marine bio-organisms. A third research focus is on magnetic and thermoelectric nanomaterials, or highly efficient heat conducting materials that could be used in the next generation of renewable energy technology.
“UCSB has become a model for other universities, especially in the Materials arena, in its dissolution of barriers between departments in a manner that encourages collaboration,” says Professor Ram Seshadri, Associate Director of the MRL. “We have systematically created an environment where interdisciplinary research is intentional and encouraged. The MRL has always supported this vision through shared central facilities and infrastructure, and by valuing shared success.”
In partnering with over 750 internal and external users last year – including students, researchers, and industry collaborators – MRL facilities provided state-of-the-art technological instruments that advanced research in chemistry, physics, and materials science and engineering.
The MRL also significantly impacts K-12 and undergraduate education through innovative programs aimed at students, teachers, and junior researchers that have served as models both nationally and internationally. Teacher training programs housed at the MRL prepare educators to teach about science and engineering, fostering curriculum design delivered to local classrooms.
Since it first opened its doors 20 years ago, the MRL has become the seeding grounds for several other successful research centers and programs on the UCSB campus. The unique environment of the MRL has created and sustained numerous start-up companies throughout the Central Coast region. Employers in high-technology chemical, electronics, and medical industries – from start-ups to large corporations – find a valuable resource and partner in the Materials Research Laboratory.
“We are very proud that our Materials Research Laboratory has become known around the world as a highly interdisciplinary and collaborative research laboratory in advanced materials,” said Chancellor Henry T. Yang. “This grant renewal from the National Science Foundation underscores the outstanding work taking place here, and its promising impact in the future. I congratulate Director Craig Hawker and all of our participating colleagues across campus on this successful renewal, which is particularly significant during such a competitive budgetary time at NSF.”
In September 2010, the National Research Council ranked UCSB as the #1 materials science graduate program in the nation. In reports released this year by Thomson Reuters, materials research at UCSB ranked second in the world in terms of published research citation impact. Five professors from the UCSB Materials Department made the recent list of the top 100 most cited materials researchers in the world.