The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that the Center for Emergent Materials (CEM) at The Ohio State University has been awarded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) funding for the third time since 2008. This $18 million, six-year grant will fund transformative science and complex materials discovery by two multidisciplinary, collaborative groups of researchers and includes funding to help ease entry into science from underrepresented groups.
“We are excited to have won this highly prized funding because it enables scientists to undertake complex and transformative projects at the scientific frontiers, and provides sustained support for diverse teams to collaboratively synthesize new understanding and open new research topics,” said P. Chris Hammel, Ohio Eminent Scholar, physics professor and director of the Center for Emergent Materials.
After an intense and highly competitive process, 11 MRSECs were funded for this cycle, bringing the nationwide total to 19. A flagship initiative for NSF, the MRSEC program funds research at the cutting-edge of scientific discovery by enabling teams of researchers to tackle scientific problems that are too large and complex for one person or one group to make an impact. These teams, called Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs), are made up of a diverse group of faculty, their students and postdoctoral researchers.
This funding will allow CEM to continue its history of excellence with two new IRGs, which aim to develop materials that grant improved control over magnetic properties, generating new paradigms in computing and information storage.
IRG-1: Creation and Control of Metal/Magnetic-Insulator Interfaces is co-led by Jinwoo Hwang, associate professor of materials science engineering, and Fengyuan Yang, professor of physics. This group will focus on magnetic interactions at interfaces between metals and magnets. The team includes faculty in the fields of chemistry and biochemistry, materials science engineering and physics at Ohio State and Carnegie Mellon University.
IRG-2: Topology and Fractionalization in Magnetic Materials is co-led by Joseph Heremans, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and physics, and Yuan-Ming Lu, associate professor of physics. Group members will focus on control of configurations and interrelationships between magnetic interactions that protect magnetic states against omnipresent disruptive forces. The team is made up of faculty in chemistry and biochemistry, materials science engineering, mechanical and aerospace engineering and physics at Ohio State and Colorado State University.
“An important benefit of this funding is its support for a seed program that nurtures new science and prepares young scientists to be leaders,” explained Hammel. “For example, IRG-1 grew out of a project initiated by Prof. Jinwoo Hwang with seed funding support.”
Both of the IRGs were nucleated in the Ohio State’s Materials Research Seed Grant Program, an enterprising Ohio State program run by the CEM, the Center for Exploration of Novel Complex Materials (ENCOMM), and the Institute for Materials Research (IMR) that supports new developments in materials research.
A robust education, human resources and development (EHRD) program aimed at increasing scientific literacy and diversity from elementary school students through the faculty ranks rounds out the new initiatives this award will enable. CEM will continue to provide mentorship for high-needs K-12 students through outreach and tutoring programs. The externally funded Masters-to-Ph.D. minority Bridge Program, which increases the pool of faculty candidates from underrepresented backgrounds continues to be essential to CEM’s EHRD efforts.
“Center faculty and current bridge students are vital participants that provide research and academic mentorship and support to incoming bridge students,” said Michelle McCombs, CEM’s outreach and inclusion director. “Connecting new students to a network of Bridge peers eases the transition to graduate school life and provides a direct link to older students who are invaluable sources of advice.”
Additionally, CEM’s new Diversity Action Plan, founded on proven strategies employing concrete, measureable steps, is focused on improving faculty and post-secondary diversity.
“Through implementation of the additional strategies, we will have the opportunity to further expand prior efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion of the CEM in more meaningful and sustainable ways,” said La’Tonia Stiner-Jones, assistant dean of graduate programs in graduate education, assistant professor of practice in biomedical engineering and CEM’s senior advisor for diversity and inclusion.