The Campus Chronicle
Vol. XVIII, Issue 10
for the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts
November 1, 2002

 Page One Grain & Chaff Obituaries Letters to the Chronicle Archives Feedback Weekly Bulletin

 Page One Grain & Chaff Obituaries Letters to the Chronicle Archives Feedback Weekly Bulletin




Research center wins $12m grant

by Elizabeth Luciano, News Office staff

The 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.

     "The awarding 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.

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