MRSEC wins major new grant from the National Science Foundation
The cutting-edge research center received $18 million to develop the next generation of machines and materials.
It is the third time Brandeis has received the prestigious award. This year it was given to only 10 other universities besides Brandeis, including Columbia, Harvard and Princeton.
MRSEC, which stands for Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), is a long-term, nationwide effort to invent devices that are right out of a science fiction movie — self-mending clothing, self-healing artificial organs, nanobots that travel through the bloodstream to wipe out cancer cells and cyborgs that move with the agility and grace of human beings.
Brandeis MRSEC researchers also recently began a long-term project to develop cures for viruses, including COVID-19.
“It is extremely stimulating to be part of a sustained, well-supported team like the MRSEC that addresses grand challenges at the forefront of science,” said Brandeis MRSEC director and professor of physics Seth Fraden. “Brandeis is a fitting home for such a center because our small size and passionate community of researchers support a highly collaborative environment.”
“The MRSEC program is a flagship program for the [NSF Division of Materials Research] and with these new awards will continue its long history of forging discoveries and fueling new technologies,” the division’s director, Linda Sapochak, said in a press release.
At Brandeis, Fraden and his colleagues focus on “soft matter” — compounds like gels, liquid crystals, foams and polymers that exist somewhere between a liquid and a solid state.
They aim to endow these materials with features and abilities found in nature.
Fraden and his collaborators also work on “self-propelling” or “self-powered” liquids.
These are made from motor proteins taken from animal cells that consume chemical energy to keep on going. In the same way, these liquids move on their own without any kind of human intervention, and act like self-pumping fluids.
The MRSEC is an example of “horizontal connectivity” at Brandeis, where scientists transcend programmatic, departmental and school affiliations to work across disciplines. Some 17 Brandeis faculty, from 6 science departments, work alongside 30 graduate students, postdocs and MRSEC staff.
The MRSEC also offers a broad range of educational outreach programs for K-12 students and teachers, undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs.
As part of the NSF’s Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM), MRSEC collaborates on research into cutting-edge materials with Hampton University, a historically black university in Virginia.
This 6-year, $3.6M PREM grant aims to boost diversity in the sciences by building Hampton’s research capacity and increasing the recruitment, retention and graduation rates of individuals from underrepresented groups.