NSF renews support of Penn's laboratory for research on the structure of matter with a $17 million grant

October 11, 2000

PHILADELPHIA -- The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year, $17 million grant to the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM) at the University of Pennsylvania. The NSF funds, to be matched by approximately $2.1 million in University support, will allow one of the nation's pioneering materials research centers to continue its work developing innovative materials ranging from synthetic proteins to carbon fibers with unrivaled strength.

LRSM's $17 million share ranks second among 15 materials research centers nationwide receiving a total of $134 million in new NSF funds this year. Established in 1960 as one of the nation's first three interdisciplinary materials research centers, LRSM has been supported by the NSF since 1972.

The field of materials science encompasses a dazzling array of research aimed at developing ever-better materials for industrial, medical and consumer use. Some materials researchers devote themselves to creating specialized plastics that can conduct current or emit light. Others are creating materials that mimic bodily tissues and other biological matter for transplantation purposes. Yet others are tackling the need for improved electronic and superconducting materials, improved devices for information storage and ways of inducing chemical reactions on a chip.

"The products of modern materials research impact our economy and our everyday lives," said Thomas Weber, director of NSF's Division of Materials Research. "The centers address fundamental science and engineering problems in the creation of new materials. They also provide students a highly interdisciplinary education that is prized by potential employers in industry, academia and government."

LRSM embraces three dozen researchers from three Penn schools: Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Applied Science and Medicine. These researchers work closely with industry and other economic sectors to create new materials that could potentially revolutionize consumer and industrial products.

LRSM's four major areas of research include a group working on synthetic protein building blocks known as maquettes, which could pave the way for as-yet-unforeseen types of materials and devices. Another group's work on microscale soft materials could find applications ranging from switches for the communications industry to controlled-release sensors for consumer products.

A third LRSM group focuses on materials derived from carbon nanotubes, filaments of pure carbon less than one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair that have exhibited astonishing strength and electrical properties.

The fourth group is working on multifunctional complex oxides, novel materials that are highly sensitive to stress and external magnetic and electric fields.

Approximately two-thirds of LRSM's budget supports these established research projects as well as nurturing new projects that may someday grow into such full-scale research efforts. LRSM also supports the construction of large shared instruments, some off-site at national research facilities. Offering both Research Experience for Undergraduates and Research Experience for Teachers programs and linked with the University of Puerto Rico through a Collaborative to Integrate Research and Education, LRSM also has a significant outreach component, inviting teachers and students in and helping to bring the excitement of scientific discovery to local high schools.
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University of Pennsylvania
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