SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah may be stepping to the forefront in researching new materials used in the next generation of computers, communication devices, microscopes and solar cells, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation.
University officials announced Wednesday that it was been awarded a $12 million NSF Materials Research and Science and Engineering Center grant. The U. joins Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Northwestern and Michigan universities in the latest round of materials research grants.
"At the federal agency level, this is about the most prestigious award possible," said Anil Virkar, professor and chairman of materials science and engineering. "Securing a grant of this size and scope really inaugurates our academic membership in the Pac-12."
The grant will be part of a $21.5 million project to create the new Center of Excellence in Materials Research and Innovation. The state's USTAR science initiative will give a $6.5 million grant and the university will use another $3 million to purchase the major equipment needed for the research center.
The new center will bring together more than two dozen researchers in seven departments in the colleges of science, engineering, mines and earth sciences. The new equipment will be housed in existing labs on campus and in new space created by the new USTAR science building being constructed.
The center's research will focus on the areas of plasmonics and spintronics. Plasmonics involves creating materials that control the way various wavelengths of light propagate on their surfaces. These materials can allow tighter focusing than what conventional microscopes can. They could also be used to develop faster devices used for communication and computers.
Spintronics include the development of organic semiconductors, which can be used to carry and store computer information by exploiting an atom's "spin." These semiconductors can make more efficient computers, displays and solar cells.
"These are very promising materials," Valy Vardeny, professor of physics, said. "If we can understand their electronic, magnetic and spintronic properties, they can be fabricated far less expensively than standard silicon electronics."
The center will also function to train undergraduate and graduate students in cutting-edge materials science. The center will also invest in outreach programs for K-12 students and teachers, said Debra Mascaro, the center's new education and outreach director.
Virkar has been selected to be the center's new director, and Vardeny will serve as associate director.
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