September 19, 2011

NSF Renews Materials Research Funding at Cornell

Print More

The National Science Foundation renewed funding for the Cornell Center for Materials Research, which uses of the study of matter to find solutions to a variety of complex problems. The center will receive $18.36 million over the next six years, the University announced Sept. 9.

CCMR Director Melissa Hines praised the NSF’s decision, saying Cornell will benefit greatly from the funding.

“[The funding] brings researchers together from wildly different fields … to work on cutting edge material,” Hines said.

The extension of the grant will allow the Cornell Center for Materials Research to continue its mission to use the understanding of the properties of matter to develop strategies in engineering. The grant funds research ranging from developing superconductors to new types of data storage, according to Hines. A portion of the grant also goes toward funding “seed projects,” she said. These projects tend to be created more spontaneously and allow researchers to explore a topic for a two year interval.

“We fund crazy ideas, wild ideas,” Hines said.

Prof. Lara Estroff, materials science and engineering, said the NSF grants were critical in funding her research.

“As a junior faculty [member], these [grants] have been invaluable to me to help establish collaborations across the University,” Estroff said. “It is incredibly beneficial for projects that are not ready for outside grants.”

The goal of seed money is to help start-up projects until they are able to receive their own independent source of funding, Estroff said. Estroff’s first project from the seed funding has now received its own NSF grant.

“The center’s support of these kind of budding research projects is really kind of essential,” Estroff said.

All seed grants from CCMR have to include faculty from two or more departments at Cornell, according to Estroff, who is currently collaborating on her third seed project with Prof. Claudia Fischbach-Teschl, biomedical engineering. Estroff and Fischbach-Teschl are studying breast cancer bone metastasis.

Bone metastasis occurs when the cancer cells move into the bone from the blood stream, and causes a majority of breast cancer deaths, according to Estroff. Biologists have traditionally studied bone by focusing on the chemical signals between the cells involved. Estroff is attempting to take a varied approach to the study of the process, she said.

“Since bone is actually a material, it is an organic/inorganic composite. What we’re asking is, what role did the material’s properties play in determining the mastitis?” Estroff said.

CCMR funding is also used to make expensive specialized equipment available for other universities and corporations to use. CCMR also transitions academic work into the industrial sector to solve problems that small businesses and start-ups encounter.

The center is especially beneficial for businesses in Upstate New York, Hines said, because it helps otherwise isolated groups connect with state-of-the-art technology.

Educational outreach is also among one of CCMR priorities. CCMR sends graduate students, faculty and staff to interact with local schools. They develop hands-on activities available for teachers to implement in the class room.

“We’re working with K through 12 to excite and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers,” Hines said. “We want them to love science as much as we do.”

Original Author: Tajwar Mazhar