CEM Receives $17.9 M NSF Grant Renewal

December 8, 2014

It has just been announced that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has renewed funding for Ohio State’s Center for Emergent Materials (CEM): an NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC).

The six-year, $17.9 million grant funds Ohio State’s adventurous, long-term studies of forward-looking new materials that are on the very edge of the possible.

“This is not about short-term funding that has clearly-defined achievable goals. Rather, the focus is on adventurous, foundational research that enables far-reaching technologies. Great science is the heart of this funding,” said P. Christopher Hammel, Ohio Eminent Scholar, physics professor and director of the Center for Emergent Materials, NSF MRSEC.

After a rigorous, uber-competitive review process, only 12 MRSECs were funded. These NSF Flagship institutions form a national network of top materials research programs at top research institutions — Princeton, Harvard, MIT, Ohio State — capable of performing complex and ambitious multi-disciplinary sciences.

The driving idea behind the MRSEC program is to identify and fund collaborative materials research by teams of researchers from multiple disciplines that have the ability to address difficult, fundamental problems in science and engineering.

These teams, called Interdisciplinary Research Groups, or IRGs, consist of eminent faculty and their students and postdoctoral researchers. Together, they tackle scientific problems that are too large and/or complex for one person or one group to make an impact.

“This approach allows us to bring together groups of researchers with diverse skill sets and expertise that can handle the challenges of multi-faceted scientific issues, integrating materials synthesis and growth, characterization, novel probe development and theory and modeling,” Hammel explained.

The main challenge is to enhance technology and improve energy efficiency through discovery of new materials, novel phases of matter and innovative spin science.

Established by NSF funding in 2008 rooted in Ohio State’s Targeted Investment in Excellence Program (T.I.E.), the Center for Emergent Materials has a recognized track record in diverse fields, which served it well in the rigorous renewal process.

The NSF grant renewal funds three powerful Interdisciplinary Research Groups led by proven research teams poised to make breakthrough discoveries:

Spin-Orbit Coupling in Correlated Materials: Novel Phases and Phenomena, is co-led by physicist Nandini Trivedi, and chemist Patrick Woodward. The group has a long record of successful collaboration, establishing fundamentals for understanding and prediction in this area. It includes physicists, chemists and materials science engineers from Ohio State, Iowa State and the University of Tennessee. The grand aim is to design a new class of tailored quantum materials with tunable magnetic and electric properties that would impact technology and society.

Control of 2D and 1D Electronic Structure by Surface Functionalization of Group-IV Graphane Analogues, is co-led by chemist Joshua Goldberger and physicist Roland Kawakami. Group members are leading experts in creating and manipulating single-atom sheets. The team includes chemists, electrical and computer engineers, materials science engineers and physicists from Ohio State, UC-Berkeley, and Case Western. The flexibility of these new materials will find broader applications in science and technology including new opportunities in materials by design, platforms for chemical sensing and information processing.

Nonlinear Interactions between Spin Flux and Engineered Magnetic Textures, is co-led by Jos. Heremans, mechanical and aerospace engineering and physics; and physicist Fengyuan Yang. Group members are leaders in the theory of spin dynamics and dynamic spin transport and  include physicists, mechanical engineers, materials science engineers and electrical and computer engineers from Ohio State, Iowa and UCLA. This research could enable transformative technologies that move beyond current spintronics concepts and technologies.

It would be difficult to overstate the benefits that the Center for Emergent Materials’ infrastructure investments provide Ohio State and the state of Ohio.

Eleven Ohio companies have benefited directly from the availability of cutting-edge materials’ research tools that the CEM-supported NanoSystems Laboratory provides to university and industrial researchers.

Two of the three projects funded by the NSF grant were developed through the integrated OSU Materials Research Seed Grant Program. Seed grants complement IRG research by supporting emerging developments in materials research. The program also identifies and nurtures future leaders, which extends CEM impact beyond IRG membership.

“One of our goals,” Hammel said, “is to increase the quantity and quality of scientists and engineers prepared to contribute to and lead research, development and commercialization in materials-related fields.”

CEM researchers are doing that through focused, coordinated and sustained activities that engage groups extending from elementary school students through faculty ranks. Initiatives include using cognitive research to enhance classroom education, and providing undergraduates with immersive, authentic research experiences.

Diversity enhancement efforts are tightly interwoven with every educational and outreach activity. “We are absolutely committed to increasing diversity in science and engineering by eliminating barriers to the success of underrepresented groups,” Hammel said.

—Sandi Rutkowski