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UTA team receives prestigious NSF grant to develop new materials
The University of Texas at Arlington is one of just 10 universities nationwide to receive a three-year, $800,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant through the Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) program and Northwestern University’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center to develop new functional materials for energy and semiconductor applications.
“We will develop materials that are yet to be discovered,” said Stathis Meletis, chair of UTA’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, who will lead the project. “It’s very exciting.”
Co-principal investigators are Krishnan Rajeshwar, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Ramon Lopez, professor of physics; Seong Jin Koh, professor of materials science and engineering; and Mark Hersam, professor of chemistry and materials science engineering at Northwestern.
Meletis said the team will work on functional materials that help with filtering energy, developing nanostructures and new inorganic semiconductors, and building solar energy conversion and magnetic and optoelectronic devices. The first focus area of the PREM will center on electron transport and energy filtering across mixed-dimensional heterostructures.
The second focus area of the PREM aims to develop new families of inorganic compound semiconductors for solar cells. The goal is to systematically vary the structural and chemical framework and explore corresponding variations in the optical and electronic properties of the parent compound. Ternary oxides will be the focus of initial studies.
“I am hugely pumped about the prospects of collaborating with the Northwestern University researchers given their prestige and stature coupled with the state-of-the-art facilities they boast in materials characterization,” Rajeshwar said.
Rajeshwar’s role is to coordinate the second focus area of the two interdisciplinary research topics in the proposed project that has to do with generating a new family of multinary oxide semiconductors for targeted applications.
“We hope to recruit talented senior undergraduate students drawn from underrepresented minority groups so that they will ultimately evolve into role model researchers in their own right,” he said.
Peter Crouch, dean of the UTA College of Engineering, said the collaboration with Northwestern is a coup for UTA faculty and students.
“The partnership will allow our graduate students to conduct research there in the summer,” Crouch said. “That’s a tremendous educational opportunity for our students.”
One emphasis of the grant is to promote graduate education to underrepresented domestic students, Meletis said. In 2014, UTA became the largest public four-year university in Texas to meet U.S. Department of Education requirements to be labeled a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). The College of Engineering has about 40 percent underrepresented minorities in total enrollment but about 7 percent in graduate enrollment.
“Our goal is to double the number of underrepresented graduate students in materials science and engineering in three years,” Meletis said. “We believe that involving undergraduates in materials research, mentorship and educational opportunities during the summer here and at Northwestern will help in that recruitment.”
The NSF awarded 10 PREM seed grants to collaborative research teams across the United States that will lay the groundwork for full-fledged PREM awards in the future. Each seed award provides $800,000 — for a total NSF investment of $8 million — and will support materials research partnerships between minority-serving institutions and large-scale, NSF-supported research centers and facilities.
These seed grants are intended to support these minority-serving institutions over the next three years to begin building partnerships, with the hope that they will be better prepared and ready for a full PREM award in the future.
“Our PREM program is helping to build the future of materials research and the students, faculty and partners who are engaged in it,” said Sean L. Jones, assistant director of mathematical and physical sciences at the NSF. “This program allows us to harness more talent by expanding and developing a diverse workforce that will lead to exciting innovations and continue to push U.S. leadership in STEM fields.”
The other universities receiving PREM seed grants are Tennessee State University, Howard University, Florida A&M University, California State University at Long Beach, Xavier University, Delaware State University, Claflin University, University of Central Florida, University of Hawaii at Manoa and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
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