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Stanford receives two of 11 new NSF materials research awards

STANFORD -- Two research groups at Stanford University have received awards totaling $21.4 million under a new materials research program at the National Science Foundation.

The new Materials Research Science and Engineering Center program is the product of a reorganization that combines two NSF programs, Materials Research Laboratories and Materials Research Groups.

The government agency received 156 preliminary proposals from universities around the country when they announced the new program. From those they asked 30 to prepare full proposals. Sixteen became finalists. Of these, 11 awards were made to nine universities. Stanford is the only lead institution to receive two awards.

One of Stanford's awards - $10.2 million for 52 months - went to an existing research organization, the Center for Materials Research. The other award - $11.2 million for 54 months - will establish a new center for polymer studies, which is a collaboration with IBM's Almaden Research Center and the University of California at Davis. Although a number of materials centers established by NSF have had significant industry involvement, this is the first to have a corporation as a full partner.

The two centers will be studying fundamental problems in science and engineering that are important to society. These problems include work that has the potential for producing improved catalysts for chemical reactions, better protective coatings for computer chips, magnetic materials that can store digital data more compactly, new types of sensors, improved lubricants and adhesives, and better video displays.

Center for Materials Research (CMR)

The Center for Materials Research was established by Stanford more than 30 years ago with funding by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency to foster interdisciplinary research in materials science. In the 1970s, the center became on of the first NSF Materials Research Laboratories.

Many of the advances in research that have been made at the center during its existence involve thin films, films with layers only a few atomic diameters in thickness. These achievements include: invention of infrared sensitive thin films now used in night vision goggles and devices used during the recent Gulf War; creation of the type of thin film found in x-ray imaging tubes used in hospitals; development of a technique to grow multiple layers of metallic thin films that have made the construction of x-ray telescopes possible; and, the first successful fabrication of high temperature superconducting materials in thin film form.

"We act as the glue that brings together scientists from fields as diverse as chemistry, physics, geochemistry, and electrical engineering to create and study new materials," says Hans C. Andersen, professor of chemistry and acting director of CMR.

Besides providing funding to faculty scientists for interdisciplinary studies, the center operates as shared facilities major pieces of research equipment, such as transmission electron microscopes, that are too expensive for individual laboratories.

The center's current research is focused in three areas. One is the attempt to make new high temperature superconductors and understand their properties. The second is the study of oxide surfaces as catalysts for chemical reactions, protective layers for microelectronic chips, and to determine the way that they bind with metals to improve models of ground water transport of pollutants. The third area involves the study of magnetic materials that hold promise for increasing the density of digital data storage in computers.

Center for Polymer Interfaces and Macromolecular Assemblies (CPIMA)

The new center is being formed to create and study novel thin films made from polymers, including some that are combined with materials like detergents and surfactants.

"We will be doing fundamental research in an area with a number of potential applications," says Curtis W. Frank, professor of chemical engineering and director of CPIMA.

Such applications include electronic devices, sensors, optical systems, video displays, lubricants and adhesives.

Polymers are materials made up of spaghetti-like molecules built up by joining large numbers of smaller chemical units. Plastics are the most well known example of such materials. Synthetic fibers like rayon and epoxy glue are other examples. Starch and cellulose are natural polymers. Macromolecular assemblies are orderly assemblies of over-sized molecules. Common examples are the lipid bilayers that form cell membranes and the aligned molecules in liquid crystal displays.

Researchers at Stanford are leaders in the creation of new polymers and of efforts to understand how these materials respond to deformation. IBM Almaden is a center of technological innovation for the microelectronics industry and has a strong polymer science group. UC Davis researchers are widely recognized for their innovative studies of how materials move on polymer surfaces and the optical properties of these materials.

One of the most novel aspects of the center is the fact that IBM is a full partner. Previous materials research centers set up by NSF have had corporate involvement through industrial affiliates programs, but, according to NSF, none have had a corporation as fully involved.

"We hope that CPIMA will become a new paradigm for academic/industrial research partnerships," Frank says.

In addition to its federal funding, the center will receive substantial contributions from Stanford, IBM, UC-Davis and the State of California.



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