Nontechnical Abstract: The growth, prosperity, security, and quality of life of humans are in large part determined by the materials they use. The mission of the UC San Diego Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (UCSD MRSEC) is to perform innovative, interdisciplinary materials research relevant to societal needs, and to prepare students to become future leaders in materials design and discovery. The research effort of the Center is conducted within two highly interdisciplinary groups. The first group is deploying the most powerful computers available to understand, predict, and ultimately control the properties of materials at microscopic size scales—sizes just larger than molecular dimensions. It is in this size regime where many useful properties of materials emerge. For example, changes in the shape of metal particles at this scale can change their color, their efficiency as a catalyst, or their sensitivity in a medical diagnostic test. The second group is using the tools of the biotechnology revolution—in particular, genetic engineering and synthetic biology—to build new classes of materials that can respond to stimuli from their environment in useful ways. Both groups are targeting fundamental breakthroughs that can impact a number of critically important needs: faster, more accurate sensors for medical diagnostic tests, more efficient decontamination of chemical or biological hazards, better catalysts to reduce the cost of industrial processes, and improved therapeutics for treating diseases. The fundamental research within the two groups is empowered by an integrated educational program to prepare a diverse community of trainees to enhance national proficiencies in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Immersive training for scientists across all levels – novice through established – develops technical competency in laboratory procedures, advanced instrumentation, and computational methods. Internship and scientist-in-residence programs fuel vital exchange of ideas and leverage partnerships with industry, national laboratories, and other collaborators. Partnership with the Fleet Science Center builds researchers’ skills in science communication and connects the UCSD MRSEC with the diverse San Diego community to address community-articulated needs.

Technical Abstract

UCSD MRSEC addresses two fundamental challenges: (1) How to predict and direct the assembly of materials at the mesoscale, where macroscopic behavior and properties emerge (IRG1: Predictive Assembly); and (2) How to deploy the tools of synthetic biology to build soft materials that meld the characteristics of living systems with the performance requirements of advanced engineered materials (IRG2: Stimuli-Responsive Living Polymeric Materials). IRG1 focuses on the rational design of innovative, functional mesomaterials with programmed plasmonic, catalytic, and structural properties. A computation-driven framework is being created to understand, predict, and design how shaped nanocomponents are used as material building blocks. The models developed bridge length and time scales relevant to mesoscale assembly. IRG2 integrates engineered living matter – photosynthetic organisms – into biological composites that respond to stimuli with genetically encoded outputs, such as chemical reagents and polymer feedstocks. The UCSD MRSEC creates unique resources to benefit the broader materials-research community: a MesoMaterials Design Facility – a virtual, computational facility, and an Engineered Living Materials Foundry, consisting of a bio-synthesis laboratory and soft-matter characterization tools. The Center’s educational goals include preparing the next generation of interdisciplinary materials scientists, and increasing diversity and inclusion in materials research. The Research Immersion in Materials Science and Engineering (RIMSE) Summer Schools provide intensive training in the areas of IRG research. Enabling professional development for Center members in science communication, a partnership with the Fleet Science Center facilitates meaningful engagement with the diverse San Diego community.

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.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Materials Research (DMR)
Cooperative Agreement (Coop)
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Miriam Deutsch
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University of California San Diego
La Jolla
United States
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