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New Research Center to Set Pace of Materials Science

A $10.6 million center to study the formation, characterization and exploitation of materials at the near-atomic level will help UW-Madison and the College of Engineering remain on the cutting edge of materials science research.


Thomas F. Kuech

Thomas F. Kuech (large image)

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center is a collaboration of 16 faculty members from five departments working closely with scientists from outside industry, national laboratories and university groups. "This center is aimed directly at increasing the fundamental understanding of issues greatly important to key emerging technologies," says Professor Thomas F. Kuech, who co-directs the center with Professor Robert Joynt (Physics).

Nanostructured materials are those which have their physical structure controlled during synthethis or processing at the near-atomic level. A nanometer is 10 angstroms, or approximately four or five atoms wide.

"The need to develop our understanding of nanostructured materials is broadly recognized in both government and industry," explains Kuech. "Major technology competitors throughout the world have acknowledged both need and potential for developing our abilities in magnetic, electronic and organic materials."

For example, says Kuech, "In silicon-based electronics, our ability to scale down current device structures to ever-decreasing dimensions will reach fundamental limitations within the next decade or two. New device structures based on nanostructured, heterostructure materials (materials composed of more than one material) will have to be developed in the very near future."

The three interdisciplinary research groups involved in the new center are headed by Professors Max G. Lagally and David C. Larbalestier from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Professor Marshall F. Onellion of the Physics. Their groups will focus on the fundamental mechanisms underlying chemical vapor deposition; the role grain boundaries and electronic structure play in determining the critical density of polycrystalline high-temperature superconductors; and fabrication, analysis and theoretical understanding of nanostructured oxide magnetic materials. It is likely that other research groups will be spurred by the center's work, says Kuech.

Research findings from the center will be incorporated into science and engineering curricula for pre-college, undergraduate and graduate students, says Kuech. News kits, demonstrations, CD-ROMs and World Wide Web resources will also be developed as part of the MRSEC.

The center will make use of current facilities and equipment from the Materials Science Center, the Wisconsin Center for Applied Microelectronics, the Electrical and Optical Characterization Laboratory, the Electron Beam Lithography Facility, the Synchrotron Radiation Center, the Center for NanoTechnology and others.

"With current environmental changes in the science infrastructure, it has become increasingly difficult to bring together the necessary diversity of expertise and leading edge facilities for such research," says Kuech. "The MRSEC will now be able to impact both science and technology at the research frontier."