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Univ at Buffalo Starting Advanced Materials Research Center

Graphene coated steel and uncoated steel (University at Buffalo)

Steel coated with a graphene compound, in foreground, remains rust-free, while and the uncoated steel in the background accumulates rust. (University at Buffalo)

1 July 2014. University at Buffalo in New York is establishing a new materials research department that aims to accelerate the process of bringing advanced materials to market. Buffalo’s Materials Design and Innovation department is a joint project of the university’s engineering and Arts and Science schools, and funded in part by donation of $1.5 million from former National Science Foundation director Erich Bloch.

A key part of the Materials Design and Innovation program is the application of computational tools to speed the design and lower the cost of developing new materials. The department plans to combine computational tools with bench science in its research, as well as train future materials scientists and engineers in these techniques. The connection between computational tools and materials is already found on campus in the New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics, which has close ties to industry.

The Materials Design and Innovation department expects to draw from its current faculty in computer science, physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, environmental engineering, electrical engineering, biomedical engineering, and chemical and biological engineering. The department will first grant master and Ph.D. degrees, and add undergraduate degrees later. The university says it plans to hire 12 tenure-track faculty for the department, but did not give a schedule for those hires.

The department chair will be an endowed position funded by Erich Bloch, a 1952 Buffalo engineering graduate and director of National Science Foundation from 1984 to 1990. Bloch is donating $1.5 million for the position. According to his official NSF biography, Bloch “made the improvement of U.S. economic competitiveness a major agenda item of the NSF. He encouraged funding for high-risk, but potentially revolutionary research.”

The Materials Design and Innovation research agenda is expected to study the design of new materials that apply nanotechnology for advances in electronics, wearable devices, and transportation. Faculty also anticipate studying reduction of costs of materials for manufacturing, and minimizing waste and environmental impact.

Part of the inspiration for the Materials Design and Innovation department is the federal Materials Genome Initiative that aims to at least double the pace of discovering advanced materials and bringing them to market, while lowering their costs. The department also plans to align its program with state initiatives aiming to increase economic development in western New York.

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