Research center wins $12m grant
by Elizabeth Luciano, News Office staff
Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), which
conducts research in fields ranging from nanoscopic devices to biomaterials,
has received a six-year, $12.24 million grant from the National
Science Foundation (NSF).
MRSEC is the only center of this type
in the nation dedicated solely to the study of polymers. The University
was one of 12 institutions chosen from a field of 100 contenders
during this funding cycle, according to Thomas P. Russell, director
of the center. The grant represents a 33-percent increase in federal
funding for the center.
of such a considerable grant, especially considering the intense
competition for external support, underscores the quality of the
research that's conducted at the University. We appreciate the NSF's
investment in our people and their research efforts," said
Chancellor John Lombardi.
The center began as the Materials
Research Laboratory in 1974, and evolved into MRSEC in 1994, with
a $7 million grant from the NSF. It is located in the Silvio O.
Conte National Center for Polymer Research. Scientists from disciplines
including polymer science and engineering, chemical engineering,
chemistry, physics, and plant biology are among those conducting
research at the center, Russell said.
"MRSEC at UMass exemplifies the
interdisciplinary nature of research today," said Frederick
W. Byron Jr., interim vice chancellor for Research. "I am particularly
grateful for the exceptional leadership which Tom Russell has provided
since he became MRSEC director."
"I am enormously proud of the
faculty, staff, and students, who have continued to make MRSEC one
of the most outstandingly successful research centers in our college
and on our campus," said Leon Osterweil, interim dean of the
College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. "It is thus both
gratifying and fitting to learn that the National Science Foundation
concurs, endorsing the efforts of MRSEC and its people with this
very substantial vote of confidence."
Polymers are having significant impact
in areas such as nanotechnology and biotechnology, Russell explained:
"We're studying novel ways of combining polymer synthesis and
processing, in order to tailor materials so that they have specific
properties and functions. Those properties can range from media
storage to water repellency. What this center brings to the table
is a tremendous strength in polymer science, and the expertise to
use that strength in addressing key problems in science and technology
across the spectrum." Russell notes that the center has evolved
greatly since its inception: "There's no question that MRSEC
must address current, key issues of science and technology that
will impact society. This is a fundamental criterion for such centers."
The center's research concentrates
on three major areas of interdisciplinary research. One focuses
on processing polymers using highly compressed carbon dioxide gas,
rather than environmentally hazardous solvents. Another produces
materials with very specific surface qualities, such as adhesion
or water repellence. The third investigates the assembly of polymers
in aqueous solutions, which is critical in the production of biomaterials.
The center will also foster two "seed projects," providing
support for emerging areas in polymer research. One will look at
the use of synthetic chemistry to reinforce polymers that are organic/inorganic
blends; the other will consider polymeric materials that are essentially
networks, a topic that underpins fields ranging from rubber recycling
to drug delivery.
Education is an integral component
of MRSEC, Russell said. The center has established outreach programs
with Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Harvey Mudd colleges, and Howard
University. These agreements are aimed at promoting women and minorities
who are pursuing careers in science, Russell said. "As director
of the center, I take education very seriously. If we're not inspiring
the next generation of scientists, and actively including people
from all communities, scientific progress simply isn't going to
be made at the rate it's needed." In addition, other outreach
efforts bring undergraduates, high school students, and middle-
and high-school science teachers into the lab. UMass graduate students
also visit grade schools and high schools to conduct workshops introducing
K-12 students to polymers.
MRSEC works hand-in-hand with a sister
program, the Center for UMass and Industry Research on Polymers
(CUMIRP). The two associations work to transfer technology "from
the workbench to industry," said Russell.