The Center of Excellence for Materials Research and Innovation (CEMRI)*, hosted by the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM) at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), pursues a program that provides crucial support for faculty, post-docs, and graduate students drawn from different disciplines to tackle complex fundamental materials problems that can only be addressed in a truly collaborative mode, and that are likely to underlie future technologies and economic needs of society. Four Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs) are central to the Center. The first group explores the interplay of curvature- & elasticity-induced interactions in liquid crystals, colloids, and on interfaces; new findings will thus generate new abilities to manipulate soft matter using surface structures & membrane geometry. The second group creates materials inspired by virology from novel synthetic macromolecules such as self-assembled Janus dendrimers & designer proteins; the new materials, with virus-like structure & functions, will be useful for sensing, communication, and actuation. The third group investigates disordered packings of atoms, colloids and grains to understand how localized rearrangements of constituents organize under load; the new concepts generated will provide routes for predicting whether materials are about to fail, and for synthesis of tough materials. The fourth group, anchored by a world-class effort in nanocrystal synthesis & assembly, builds novel inter-dimensional materials from these particles, and measures emergent electronic, optical, acoustic and magnetic properties. In each IRG, theory and simulation stimulate experiment and vice versa, and answers to fundamental questions have implications for application and for the creation of heretofore un-synthesized advanced materials with unique properties. The CEMRI also supports Shared Experimental Facilities (SEFs) that enable the achievement of research goals, student/post-doc training, and outreach to our community. SEFs include X-ray scattering, electron and confocal microscopy, rheometry, electronic/thermal transport, magnetic responses, optical spectroscopy, scanning probe microscopy, and more.
The Penn CEMRI sustains creative educational and outreach programs for local K-12 school students and teachers, for undergraduates from around the nation, for Penn graduate students and post-docs, and for faculty, scientists, and students/post-docs from partnering institutions in the region and across the globe. A primary goal of the LRSM education and human resources development effort is to attract more Americans to STEM fields and take them to the highest educational level possible, with emphasis on underrepresented minorities, women, and the disabled. In addition to standard outreach programs such as Research Experiences for Undergraduates/Teachers (REU/RET), less common programs such as our Partnership for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) with the University of Puerto Rico, and distinctive programs such as our 4-week-High-School-PSSI and Southern Africa initiatives, CEMRI outreach will expand to include: the Girard School 7th Grade Science Camp for minority middle-school students, a year?long materials science elective course for high school seniors and associated workshops for teachers, annual materials exhibitions (with connections to NOVA, Philadelphia Science Festival), and Science CafÃ©s for the general public. Local community is also embraced via imaginative telepresence such as Cable TV programs and MAGPI videoconferences to high schools (HS).
The CEMRI pursues a multi-faceted strategy to reach out to industry, national laboratories, and the international community. Currently, ~25 companies (small, medium and large) are directly involved with the CEMRI, and our Shared Experimental Facilities are widely used by local industries (~100 person-days per year). The COMPASS (Complex Assemblies of Soft Matter) Laboratory was started and will continue as a joint venture between the LRSM, Rhodia, and the French CNRS. The CEMRI also continues to play a role developing national synchrotron x-ray and neutron scattering facilities; more than 25% of CEMRI faculty are currently involved with National Labs as users or in collaborative projects; others serve on advisory panels. International links (i.e., joint workshops, reciprocal visits by faculty/post-docs/students) of CEMRI with institutes in Southern Africa, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, France, Romania, and more, have cemented genuine research ties worldwide.
*a NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC)