The UChicago Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) is a strategic trans-disciplinary research hub that tackles some of the deepest intellectual challenges of materials research central to priority industries through highly collaborative efforts united to a strong commitment to education and outreach. The first research thrust, beautifully aligned with the NSF Big Idea - Understanding the Rules of Life, is discovering new materials whose properties are essential to emerging technologies; exciting outcomes in materials biology will advance the mastery of synthetic biological systems by identifying training mechanisms at play in the biological realm including advances in artificial muscles. This research will lay the scientific foundation for innovative approaches in materials processing. A second research thrust is exploring materials containing distributed molecular engines enabling new classes of materials that can spontaneously deform and flow: the future vision of this research is to design and build shape-morphing hybrid materials with transport properties that are programmable and spatiotemporally self-regulating. The resulting materials platform will have tremendous impact in sensing, actuation, separations, and biodesign, thus adding innovation to synthetic materials biology. A third effort, aligned with the NSF Big Idea - Quantum Leap, focuses on new materials needed for the creation of integrated quantum circuits: powerful new methodologies developed here will enable the manipulation and transfer of quantum information. This research vision allows this MRSEC to forge a robust community where students, postdocs and faculty bring diverse expertise and research interests in the service of compelling scientific goals designed to increase our national competitiveness in these areas. The UChicago MRSEC manages state-of-the art materials preparation and measurement facilities that are accessible to all academic and industrial researchers. Outreach and education activities are designed to communicate research results broadly, to foster professional development of students and to strengthen interest in science in the general public. As a result, the UChicago MRSEC provides a vibrant resource to the university, to the broader materials science community, and, via societal impacts, to the local inner-city neighborhood and to the general public.
UChicago MRSEC establishes new conceptual frameworks to guide materials discovery and explores synergistic connections. The research activities are organized into two Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs) and one SuperSeed. The IRG on Trainable Soft Materials establishes a framework for building classes of materials whose physical response is engineered by using external manipulation to train in novel functionality. It takes inspiration from the fundamental processes that govern the structure and enormous adaptability of biological networks in order to derive new principles for pluripotent material fabrication by varying the training protocol. The IRG on Activated Architectured Materials constructs materials with spatiotemporally programmable and self-regulating transport properties by bringing together recent advances in active materials with inorganic colloidal and thin film synthesis. This work enables dynamic control of transport properties of inorganic materials with potential applications in sensing, actuation and biodesign. A Super-Seed on Materials for Electrical-Optical Quantum Transduction focuses on the challenge of creating integrated quantum circuits with coherent interfaces between different quantum materials spanning across many energy scales.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.