Center for Materials Science and Engineering

The Center for Materials Science and Engineering (CMSE), an interdepartmental center at MIT, continues to be an innovative and dynamic program in interdisciplinary materials research and education. Funded since 1994, CMSE is the largest of a nation-wide network of twenty-eight Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

MIT has an extraordinarily strong and broad effort in materials science and engineering involving over 120 faculty members in 12 departments in the schools of science and engineering. Much of the research addresses intermediate-term engineering problems, often with the participation and support of industry. However, the longer-range problems, especially those that require a multi-investigator approach, are often overlooked. In this environment CMSE has a special mission: to foster collaborative interdisciplinary research and education in the fundamental science of materials and in the engineering of materials for long-range applications that will meet the needs of society. To accomplish this, CMSE promotes collaboration among MIT faculty and between MIT researchers and the researchers of other universities, industry, and government and nonprofit laboratories.

Collaborative research is encouraged through several mechanisms: interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs), shared experimental facilities (SEFs) and outreach programs. The IRGs, described below, are composed of MIT faculty who, with their students and postdoctoral associates, investigate fundamental scientific questions and pathways to reach significant technological goals that can only be properly explored in a collaborative, multidisciplinary mode. These problems are too large in scope to be addressed by individual faculty members and their students. Collaboration is essential for materials-related science and engineering, even for individual investigators, because such research requires very sophisticated equipment. CMSE provides a mechanism for the purchase and supervision of such equipment in its SEFs. The equipment is made available to the members of the IRGs, individual MIT investigators, and researchers from other university, industrial, government, and nonprofit laboratories.

CMSE also provides seed and initiative funds. While preference is given to young faculty, CMSE uses seed and initiative funds to support research that has the potential of redefining the direction of an existing IRG or leading to the creation of a completely new IRG. Seed funding provides CMSE with the flexibility necessary to initiate high-risk research.


This has been another year of change for the center. In January, Michael F. Rubner became the director of the center, replacing Bob Silbey who became the new Dean of Science. Professor Rubnere also has kept his role as safety officer for Building 13. Ron Hasseltine has moved on to become the Assistant Dean, School of Science. His position as Assistant Director was filled in May by Gayle Wolf. Karen Fosher, fiscal officer, has moved on and was replaced by Michael Enos. Other administrative staff changes include the addition of Jessica Landry and Generoso Fierro who are providing superior administrative support to the Center. We've also added a full time facilities coordinator to the center. Edward Kruzel has been hired to direct the extensive renovation of Building 13 as well as the daily ongoing facility needs of the building. Finally, we are in the process of preparing for the submission of a competing renewal of our MRSEC grant which funds this center.

Interdisciplinary Research Groups

Microphotonic Materials and Structures

In the past 50 years, semiconductor technology has come to play a vital role in almost every aspect of our daily lives. In the next 50 years, our technology may be just as thoroughly revolutionized by the replacement of electrons with photons (i.e. light) as the carrier of information. Photons have several advantages over electrons, including greater speed, greater information carrying ability, and greater energy efficiency. The key to achieving this advance, and the principal goal of this IRG, is the development of an exciting new class of materials, called photonic crystals, which will allow control of the confinement and propagation of light in very small dimensions, thereby enabling the design and integration of a large number and variety of optical microdevices on a single chip.

Participating faculty are:

Nanostructured Polymers

This group seeks to gain a fundamental understanding of the factors that control the way complex, electronically active polymer systems organize at the molecular level. The knowledge obtained from this work is expected to make it possible to control and significantly enhance the performance of electronic, magnetic, and optical devices based on these materials. The objective of this IRG is to develop the chemistry and processing needed to control the composition and spatial arrangement of constituents of multicomponent polymeric materials with novel electrical and optical properties.

Participating faculty include:

Electronic Transport in Mesoscopic Semiconductor Structures

The steady decrease in the size of semiconductor structures that has brought about the information age has also made it possible to study new electronic transport phenomena. Whereas classical transport theory describes the behavior of electrons in macroscopic systems (like conventional transistors), and the quantum mechanics of microscopic systems (like atoms) is reasonably well understood, the intermediate regime, termed mesoscopic, continues to reveal surprises and opportunities for novel electronic devices. In particular, whereas some mesoscopic effects are subtle, those resulting from confining electrons to reduced dimensions (in quantum dots, for example) are very dramatic. It is the goal of this IRG to understand the fundamental physical principles governing transport through and between semiconductor nanostructures created by both self-assembly and lithography techniques.

Participating faculty include:

Microstructure and Mechanical Performance of Polymeric Materials

It is widely recognized by polymeric material producers that the key to polymer penetration into new product markets is through the optimization of industrial polymers on the market today. Thermoplastics offer major advantages in load-bearing applications because they are inexpensive, light-weight, easily processed into desired form, and recyclable. However, their mechanical properties limit their applicability. Recent advances in the ability to study material microstructure and deformation at multiple length scales have created tremendous new opportunities for developing methodologies for truly designing polymeric material systems. The goal of this IRG is to provide a mechanistic basis for tailoring polymer microstructure in order to achieve dramatic improvements in multiple mechanical properties by exploring and exploiting connections among microstructure, mechanisms and mechanical performance.

Participating faculty include:

Doped Mott Insulators

Several of the most interesting phenomena discovered in materials science in the past decade occur in a class of substances called Mott insulators. For example, high critical temperature (Tc) superconductivity occurs when certain copper oxide Mott insulators are doped to make them conducting. The effect of doping on the electronic and magnetic properties of Mott insulators is one of the great unsolved problems in condensed matter physics. The members of this IRG believe that the understanding of high Tc superconductivity, in particular, will require the solution of this larger problem. Apart from the intrinsic scientific interest, a deeper understanding of doped Mott insulators will pave the way for the exploitation and control of this technologically interesting class of materials.

Participating faculty include:

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Lithium Polymer Batteries

Rechargeable Li batteries with a solid polymer electrolyte (SPE) could be the ultimate power storage device due to their high potential energy density and low cost. Li-SPE imposes no limitations on the shape of the battery and is inexpensive to process, in contrast to current battery technology based on liquid electrolytes. Development is impeded by materials problems that are difficult because of the interaction between electronic, chemical and mechanical phenomena. The members of this initiative have expertise in electrochemistry polymer synthesis and characterization, oxide synthesis and first-principles electronic structure calculations. The objective is to develop the basic science behind rechargeable Li batteries, and use it to develop superior materials for this application. Initially, the focus will be on the development of a block copolymer solid electrolyte (BCE), and a high-energy density, low-cost, intercalation oxide for the cathode. With block copolymers, a microstructure can be formed that is locally liquid-like (allowing high ionic conductivity), but globally solid-like (giving the material mechanical rigidity). To design a novel cathode intercalation oxide, the group will use first-principles calculations to determine the factors that influence the phase stability of the intercalation oxide.

Participating faculty include:

Seed Projects

The center funded the following seed grants during the 2000-2001 year. The participating faculty and departmental affiliations follow the project title.

Collaboration with Industry and Other Sectors

CMSE collaborates with other laboratories and centers at MIT that carry out materials-related research and engineering with direct involvement of industry and other sectors, and CMSE facilities are modified in coordination with these organizations to assure that the overall spectrum of facilities offered by MIT is as broad as possible without unnecessary redundancy.

CMSE works in concert with a number of MIT industrial programs and centers to facilitate the transfer of the fundamental knowledge generated within the program to industry. MIT's Materials Processing Center (MPC) and Industrial Liaison Program (ILP), for example, work cooperatively to connect industry to the research carried out within the MRSEC program. The MPC, in collaboration with the ILP, will frequently invite members from industry to come to MIT to review recent developments by MRSEC researchers. This is done on an individual company basis or in the form of workshops and colloquia that are attended by representatives from many different companies. Connections made at these meetings have resulted in the industrial funding of more directed applied research; the transfer of technology to industry; and the establishment of a new center at MIT that focuses on the particular needs of an industry. The new Microphotonics Center recently created at MIT, for example, is a direct spin-off of the fundamental research carried out by our Microphotonics IRG. In this case, an MPC workshop focussing on the exciting discoveries of this IRG caught the interest of industry and initiated discussions about the establishment of a center devoted to the technological development of microphotonic materials and devices. In another example, an ILP/MPC organized meeting involving representatives from different companies and MRSEC faculty ultimately lead to the development of a new coating process for contact lenses. In this case, a connection was made between the polyelectrolyte thin film research ongoing within our Nanostructured Polymers IRG and the needs of the company CibaVision.

Our IRGs have ongoing collaborations with researchers from corporations and national laboratories, including Lucent Technologies, AMP, Allied Signal, Hewlett Packard Labs, Sanders-Lockheed-Martin, Xerox, 3M, Ciba Vision, Foster Miller, PPG, Amoco, DuPont, the Naval Research Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and MIT Lincoln Laboratory. There are MIT-IBM beam lines for X-ray scattering at Brookhaven and Argonne Laboratories.

The SEFs are a critical feature of CMSE's collaborations with non-MIT personnel. The facilities are made available to any researcher from a nonprofit institution and to industrial researchers when equivalent facilities are not available commercially. Several of the IRGs participate in direct research collaboration with industry and other sectors. This is important for exchange of knowledge and the education of graduate students, for it provides them with direct experience of industrial research. CMSE currently maintains the following SEFs: Electron Microscopy, Analytical Crystal Growth, X-ray Scattering and Neutron Scattering.

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Education, Human Resources, Outreach, and Affirmative Action

CMSE's programs contribute to the education of both undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of ways. A joint program with the Materials Processing Center (MPC) brings undergraduates from all across the nation to MIT in the summer to become involved in materials research. In addition, the center supports MIT UROP students working on CMSE research. The SEFs are also important in undergraduate education. Courses, such as those in X-ray scattering and electron microscopy, teach students to use processing and characterization facilities and to carry out research projects using the equipment. A course entitled Materials Synthesis and Processing, taught by the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and initiated with partial NSF support, uses the SEFs extensively. In addition, short courses are taught using the facilities during the Independent Activities Period. At the graduate level, CMSE plays a critical role in the education of almost all the students at MIT who do materials-related research. The CMSE colloquium series provides an opportunity for graduate students from many departments to learn about the broad range of research activities. In addition to students directly involved in the research of the IRGs, the shared facilities are used by graduate students from 11 academic departments.

CMSE also conducts outreach programs geared toward K-12 education. One of these programs is an intensive summer science and engineering day camp for middle school students. Another engages science teachers in research on campus. A third program piloted this past fall involved five Chelsea High School students in a machining and engineering design seminar taught on campus. In addition to these efforts, the center presented a day-long symposium on current materials research to 30 participants in the annual meeting of the Network of Educators in Science and Technology in June.

The Education and Human Resources Program is managed by a full-time education officer, who works closely with a faculty education program leader. Our programs include a summer REU internship program, an undergraduate research opportunities program, research assistantships for underrepresented minorities, a teacher research experiences program, training courses in the facilities, regular seminars and other special programs.

CMSE is committed to providing opportunities to women and minorities through hiring and educational and research programs. Of the sixteen students who participated in the CMSE Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the MRSEC Program, six are women and ten are men. One of the UROP students is Hispanic.

The center offers three different programs that bring researchers to MIT during the summer. For the eighth year, CMSE and the MPC jointly sponsored a ten-week internship program. This year, however, the program was significantly expanded to include seventeen interns, rather than ten as in previous years. The participants were selected from applications submitted by approximately 150 undergraduates from other universities around the country. Six of the 17 scholars are women. The interns include Peter Anderson (University of Iowa), Christopher Bristow (Colorado State University), Colleen Colson (University of Southern Mississippi), Carl Dohrman (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Jonathan Hodges (Columbia University), Nicole LeBoeuf (Middlebury College), Andrew Lim (University of Connecticut), Nathan Lovell (University of Utah), Que Nguyen (Colorado School of Mines), Jack Perng (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Matthew Pilat (Providence College), Olivier Putzeys (Bucknell University), David Quinn (Villanova University), Melody Rattanapote (New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology), Sharon Voshell (Rochester Institute of Technology), Kris Wood (University of Kentucky), and Rachel Zimet (Worcester Polytechnic Institute).

The third program, Materials Research Experience for Teachers, brings science teachers to campus for seven weeks to work with MRSEC faculty members and their research groups. This program, like the internship program, has been expanded this year to include a total of eight teachers. Three of these eight are former participants returning to develop classroom material based on their prior research experience at CMSE. This year's participants include three women. Lea Lewis-Santos and William McDonald teach middle school science in the Cambridge public schools. Daniel Menelly teaches eighth-grade science at the United Nations School in New York City. Hannah Sevian is a chemistry and physics teacher at Chelsea High School. Michael Doherty teaches physics at Andover High School. Finally, Sean Müller, Rebekah Ravgiala, and Raymond Sleeper teach chemistry, physics and biology at Merrimack High School in New Hampshire.

Five students from Chelsea High School participated in the freshman design seminar taught by Prof. Steven Leeb. Two of these students are women; two are Hispanic.

For the ninth year, the Center operated its successful science and engineering day camp for seventh- and eighth-grade students, many of whom are members of underrepresented minority groups. During the summer of 2000, the program hosted 14 students from two Cambridge public schools. The students included eight who are members of underrepresented minority groups. Seven of the students are girls and seven are boys. The students were supervised by faculty, staff, and MIT undergraduates Brinda Balakrishnan, Rishard Chen, and Alice Enevoldsen.

We continued the CMSE graduate minority research assistant (RA) program to support the development of doctoral-level scientists and engineers in the field of materials. During the past year, the Center provided RA support to two male graduate students who are members of underrepresented minority groups, one in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and one in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. An additional male minority graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science was supported for the summer. A fellowship funds him during the academic year.

Michael F. Rubner

More information about the Center for Materials Science and Engineering can be found online at

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