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Fort Lewis College part of multimillion dollar partnership boosting diversity in materials science

Fort Lewis College part of multimillion dollar partnership boosting diversity in materials science

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Dr. Ryan Haaland
Dr. Ryan Haaland

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded new Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) grants to support eight collaborations across the United States aimed at fostering cutting-edge materials research while increasing diversity. Each award is expected to total nearly $4 million and will support a materials research partnership between a minority-serving institution (MSI) and a large-scale research facility supported by NSF’s Division of Materials Research (DMR). 

The PREM for Functional Nanomaterials is led by the Department of Physics & Engineering at Fort Lewis College (FLC; a Native American-Serving, Nontribal Institutions), together with Norfolk State University (NSU; a member of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and the STROBE NSF Science and Technology Center for Real-Time Functional Imaging headquartered at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The partnership will enhance the educational, research, and career preparation experiences around material science for all students, but particularly traditionally underrepresented populations. As a Native American-Serving, Nontribal Institution with a significant Latinx population and advanced teaching and research facilities housed within a new $35 million building, Fort Lewis College is well suited to help the National Science Foundation reach its research and diversity goals.

"We are very excited about the opportunities this affords our students, as well as expanding our partnerships with great collaborators across the country,” says Ryan Haaland, chair of the FLC Department of Physics & Engineering. “This is an opportunity for our students to conduct cutting-edge research that spans disciplines and allows them to develop experiences and connections that create further opportunities for their future."

Each institution brings their own scientific strengths to the table. STROBE is a cutting-edge imaging science and technology center, NSU has world-class capabilities in material growth and synthesis, and FLC offers the expertise and infrastructure for material characterization and nanofabrication.

Essentially, the PREM for Functional Nanomaterials will study and fabricate substances that are measured in the nanometer realm. For context, the thickness of a strand of DNA measures around two nanometers. The applications for such research are broad, from medicine to energy. One area that Fort Lewis College researchers are working on is using the campus’ scanning electron microscope to study nanomaterials that could improve the efficiency of solar panels.

The PREM partnerships will provide pathways for recruitment, retainment, and degree-attainment of underrepresented minorities in materials research professions across the U.S. Over the next six years, PREM will fund approximately 70 undergraduate researchers at Fort Lewis College and Norfolk State University, in addition to 20-25 high school researchers. Additionally, students will have access to research mentors, guided research experiences, professional development activities, a peer support network, and leadership opportunities. The goal is to engage student researchers early and often during their academic efforts to encourage them to pursue careers in material science.

"The United States benefits from greater innovation and a more diverse materials workforce, one that will drive cutting-edge innovations in the decades to come,” Linda Sapochak, director of NSF's Division of Materials Research, said in an NSF release. "Now in its second decade, PREM brings innovative research teams that may lack the resources of larger institutions into fully reciprocal collaborations with some of NSF's leading materials research facilities."

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