The PREM Center: Interfaces in Materials at Texas State University - San Marcos (Texas State) will advance minority participation by integration of discovery-based materials research into innovative education and outreach programs. The Texas State PREM is partnered with the Research Triangle Materials Research Science & Engineering Center (Triangle MRSEC). The proposed research outcome of this joint effort will be a better understanding of how very small objects (10-1000 times smaller than a human hair) can organize into arrays. Dispersions of nanometer-sized proteins, polymers, and inorganic materials are known as colloids. This research will be integrated into education and public outreach via Propagation of Knowledge through Shared Mentorship, a model for collaboration between educational levels that will ensure a pipeline for increased participation in the STEM disciplines.
Texas State is a Hispanic serving institution (HSI) located in Central Texas and has been recently classified as an Emerging Research University within Texas. The Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry is growing with research foci of 1.) science education, and 2.) interdisciplinary research at the biochemistry/materials interface. The Department participates in a new Ph.D. program in Materials Science Engineering and Commercialization. A partnership with world-class MRSEC scientists from Duke University, North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina and North Carolina Central University will significantly amplify infrastructure, educational innovation, scientific advances and prestige to outreach activities. The combination of regional demographics, Texas State institutional commitment to materials research and the emerging research productivity of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry creates an ideal environment to advance the goals of the PREM program.
The proposed research is divided into two thrusts: 1.) Multiscale Colloid Interfaces, and 2.) Regulatory Control of Polymer Self-Assembly into Functional Nanomaterials. In Thrust 1, an externally applied force (e.g., electric field) will guide the assembly of polymers, clay platelets and nanoparticles. Controlled colloid assembly can dramatically affect properties such as conductivity and heat dissipation. Thrust 2 is focused on assembly of proteins using small-molecule modifiers and nature's built-in regulatory processes. Using a combination of theory and experiment, the outcome of this research will be a "set of rules" for building larger assemblies of proteins. Both colloid research programs require the combined efforts of the Texas State PREM and the Triangle MRSEC.
A principle objective of the proposed PREM is to increase minority participation in STEM disciplines. Research results will be augmented with knowledge transfer concepts in our education program. Entitled "Propagation of Knowledge through Shared Mentorship - The Pipeline to Success in STEM Education," this pipeline will connect Texas State and MRSEC participants at all educational levels. Elements in Thrust 3 that exemplify Propagation of Knowledge include: 1.) MRSEC graduate student/Texas State undergraduate collaborative pairings, 2.) the PREM Academy for high school teachers, 3.) the PREM Postdoctoral SEED Program, and 4) leadership development through a ladder of shared mentorship. Using discovery-based projects, this center will produce transformative science and create effective models and methods to elevate participation of the regional minority population.