The Northwestern University MRSEC supports innovative research and education emphasizing fundamental materials science and engineering issues that have potential benefits to society. This research effort shares the theme of "Multifunctional Nanoscale Material Structures," that involve materials synthesis, processing, characterization, theory and modeling. In addition to educating a diverse group of graduate students, the Northwestern MRSEC offers programs that prepare coming generations to better understand the world around them. High school students are introduced to inquiry-based materials science through the Center-developed Materials World Modules program. This MRSEC educates several dozen undergraduates and high school teachers annually in summer research programs. The Northwestern MRSEC has collaborative international research programs and has established the first program between a MRSEC and an internationally renowned art museum; via the Art Institute of Chicago-Northwestern University Program in Conservation Science, the MRSEC contributes to an understanding of the materials science aspects of our cultural heritage

The MRSEC consists of the following Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs): IRG #1 Synergistic Linear and Nonlinear Phenomena in Multifunctional Oxide Ceramic Systems - that studies and exploits the unique attributes of oxide materials that result simultaneously in two or more functionalities (electronic, photonic, and magnetic). IRG #2 Novel Processing Routes to Nanostructured Polymer Blends and Nanocomposites - that studies and exploits the roles of non-equilibrium mechanical forces and equilibrium thermodynamics on the nanoscale structure and macroscale properties of polymer blends and composites resulting from gradient copolymerization, thermoreversible gelcasting, and solid-state shear pulverization. IRG #3 Plasmonics and Molecular Based Electronics: Fundamentals and New Tools - that studies nanoparticles that act as plasmonic switches and develops nanoscale optical characterization tools for investigating conductor-molecule-conductor junctions that lie at the heart of molecule based electronics

Participants in the Center currently include 32 senior investigators, 4 postdoctoral associates, and 20 graduate students from six departments. Professor John Torkelson directs the MRSEC.

Project Report

Project Outcome Report Northwestern University Materials Science and Engineering Center (NU-MRSEC) NSF-DMR-0520513 The vision of the Northwestern University Materials Research Science an Engineering Center (NU-MRSEC) is to create and develop programs in research, education and outreach that transform society. Faculty and students from many disciplines collaborate to explore fundamental scientific properties and potential technological applications of multifunctional nanoscale material structures. During the 2005-2011 MRSEC funding cycle (DMR-0520513), research efforts are organized as follows: • IRG 1: Synergistic Linear and Nonlinear Phenomena in Multifunctional Oxide Ceramic Systems • IRG 2: Macromolecular Assemblies • IRG 3: Molecular Plasmonics: Fundamentals, New Tools, and Devices • IRG 4: Hybrid Organic-Inorganic Nanoelectronic Materials: Molecules to Printable Thin Films In addition, Seed Projects explore potentially transformative fields including molecular logic, energy, nanomaterial synthesis, hydrogels, polymer composites, and magnetotransport techniques. These projects enhance and complement existing IRG-efforts and are typically funded for two years. IRG 1: The NU-MRSEC advanced fundamental knowledge leading to the development of novel multifunctional oxides for diverse applications. Fruitful collaborations with other IRGs and universities in the US and abroad, as well as with a number of companies and national laboratories, provided considerable leverage for this work. During 2005-2011, films of Sn-doped and In-doped CdO transparent conducting oxides (TCOs) were grown having conductivities near 20,000S/cm, ~80% of the "Bellingham" upper limit for TCOs. To our knowledge, these are the highest reported TCO conductivities, and detailed microstructure-electrical-electronic structure studies were carried out. IRG 2: In the general area of soft materials, a variety of milestones were achieved. In particular, NU-MRSEC defined the roles that electrostatic interactions and copolymer sequence distribution play in the assembly of functional, nanostructured materials, and transformed the practice soft-materials design by bringing these concepts into an important subset of the materials community. Effects of sequence distribution were elucidated by developing an integrated approach to the design, synthesis and characterization of gradient copolymers. Gradient copolymers are an important new class of materials. Their properties cannot be obtained by blending different homopolymers or by the use of more traditional block copolymers, and are therefore ideally suited for studying effects of sequence distribution in a more general sense. Another major contribution of the MRSEC in the soft materials area has involved a fundamental understanding of nanocomposite materials formed by the dispersion of nanoparticles in polymeric matrices. Nanocomposites based on grapheme oxide have been an important aspect of this work, driven by Northwestern's leadership position in the development and use of these materials. The NU-MRSEC has pioneered non-equilibrium processing strategies that have been successfully utilized by industrial collaborators. IRG 3: The NU-MRSEC made significant progress in controlling visible light at nanometer-length scales by integrating advanced computational models, nanometer-scale control over structure, and spectroscopic and microscopic tools. The 2005-2011 funding cycle focused on controlled nanostructure growth using synthetic and nanofabricated approaches, such as the use of radical polymerization to obtain long, chemically shaped gold nanowires. These are attractive nanoprobes since they are chemically inert, mechanically robust, and can transfer both electrical and plasmonic signals. The Center also investigated plasmonic sensing and structure/function relationships, making strides in understanding the relationship between structure and spectroscopic properties by developing a novel microscope that incorporates real-time-correlated atomic force microscopy (AFM) and localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) microscopy. In addition, NU-MRSEC researched the field of ultrafast plasmonics and developed new methods of achieving coherent control of energy in the nanoscale via metal nanoparticle arrays. IRG 4: The NU-MRSEC developed new families of organic and inorganic highperformance semiconductors as well as gate dielectrics offering the "holy grail’ in modern electronics, which is to achieve high-performance circuitry that is both mechanically flexible (for conformal manufacture, impact resistance, and unusual form factors) and optically transparent (for see-through displays), not possible using conventional electronic materials. In the area of organic semiconductors, new classes of rationally-designed, environmentally-stable polymeric n-type organic conductors, the design of which was guided by theory, were prepared and shown to have highly ordered microstructures and high carrier mobilities. Metallic and semiconducting single-walled carbon nanotubes were also sorted for the first time by density gradient ultracentrifugation.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Materials Research (DMR)
Cooperative Agreement (Coop)
Application #
Program Officer
Charles E. Bouldin
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Northwestern University at Chicago
United States
Zip Code