NSF Renews Support for Penn's Laboratory for Research On the Structure of Matter with $21.6 Million Grant

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Media Contact:Greg Lester | glester@pobox.upenn.edu | 215-573-6604October 7, 2005

PHILADELPHIA -- The National Science Foundation has awarded a six-year, $21.6 million grant to the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter at the University of Pennsylvania.  The NSF funds, to be matched by approximately $2.1 million in support from the University, will allow one of the nation pioneering materials-research centers to continue its work developing innovative materials.   

The Penn center supports interdisciplinary research of scientists from three schools of the University.  Their work encompasses all manner of new materials, from nanotechnology to the so-called "soft matter" inspired by biology.

"The LRSM is part of our nation's investment in fundamental research. This is fundamental science, for the long-term good," said Michael Klein, LRSM director and professor in Penn's Department of Chemistry.  "The study of quantum dots or soft matter might seem esoteric, but you can trace a long trail of innovation from such work in our laboratory to medical and technological applications."

The LRSM was established in 1960 as one of the first materials research laboratories to be funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense.  In the 1970s funding was taken over by the National Science Foundation.

"It was here in the mid-1970s that Alan MacDiarmid began work on conducting polymers that eventually won him a share of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry," Klein said.  "The consequences can already be seen in novel electronic gadgets for sale today."

LRSM $21.6 million share ranks first among 13 centers nationwide receiving $152 million NSF support as part of its Materials Research Science and Engineering Center program.

"Advanced materials are the hidden tuffthat enables the modern world to function," said Lance Haworth, executive officer for NSF's Division of Materials Research.  "Fundamental research on materials is essential to the nation's health, prosperity and welfare.  New materials are key to a whole range of rapidly changing technologies such as energy, computers and communications, transportation and increasingly health- and medicine-related technologies as well."

The LRSM's research program, which involves faculty from Penn's School of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering and Applied Science and School of Medicine, targets new advanced materials with potential for applications in diverse areas such as energy transduction, electronics, sensors and medicine.    

As part of its mission, the LRSM devotes about 10 percent of its grant to sustaining its efforts in education and community outreach.  Over the years, the laboratory has built a very successful partnership with regional schoolteachers and their students to instill an interest in scientific discovery.

The outreach extends to higher education as well, through programs that embrace undergraduate research experience and allow faculty from developing nations, such as Lesotho, to further their scientific expertise at LRSM. The LRSM also has a long-standing relationship with the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao.  Each summer students and faculty from Puerto Rico come to Penn's campus to take part in research at LRSM.