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National 2D materials research center wins funding: Boise State joins Penn State, Rice University

Boise State joins Penn State and Rice University as participating universities in the Center for Atomically Thin Multifunctional Coatings. Credit Jennifer M. McCann/Penn State

A national research center that brings together university, industry and government partners to develop atom-thin 2D coatings with wide-ranging industrial applications is expanding thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Center for Atomically Thin Multifunctional Coatings (ATOMIC) is one of more than 70 Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC) established by NSF to encourage scientific collaboration between academia and industry. ATOMIC, which launched in 2015, has 13 industry partners and five government partners and is the only NSF center dedicated to the development of advanced 2D coatings.

Operated by Penn State University’s Materials Research Institute in partnership with Rice University, ATOMIC has won $1.5 million in Phase II funding that will allow it to add both a new academic partner, Boise State University, and new industry partners. ATOMIC currently has 13 industry partners and five government partners.

The center’s research focuses on designing and developing 2D materials, with unique physical, optical, electrical and chemical properties. The materials, which range in thickness from one to a few atoms, can enable new technologies that address issues including corrosion, oxidation and abrasion resistance, biofouling and scale formation, energy storage and energy harvesting, and friction and wear. ATOMIC research also enables smaller and more powerful electronics, new kinds of sensors and actuators, and new technologies for biomedical devices, water purification and catalysis.

“We are very pleased that NSF has recognized the value of the ATOMIC center by awarding us the Phase II,” said Mauricio Terrones, director of ATOMIC and Penn State’s Verne M. Willaman Professor of Physics and distinguished professor of physics, chemistry, and materials science and engineering. “In Phase I we laid the groundwork for advanced 2D coatings that have wonderful properties. In Phase II we will have a focus on advancing the technology to more applied solutions. In addition, we are thrilled to add Boise State and their focus on inkjet printing, as this will enable quick printing of devices that make use of the multifunctional 2D materials that we have developed.”

Penn State, Rice and Boise State will run high-reward projects that can result in shared intellectual property available to both university and industry members. The three universities can also combine resources for better talent scouting, new materials development insights, increased networking and more opportunities for collaboration.

“This NSF I/UCRC is the first NSF-funded center at Boise State University and the first engineering-related I/UCRC in the state of Idaho,” said Dave Estrada, Boise State’s Associate Director for the Center for Advanced Energy Studies and ATOMIC Center site director. “This center will provide a great vehicle for regional and national industry and government partners to work with ATOMIC-affiliated faculty and students to leverage the unique properties of atomically thin materials for a variety of applications such as electronic devices, coatings for extreme environments and energy storage. The partnerships with Penn State University and Rice University highlight Boise State’s growing expertise in two-dimensional materials and additive electronics manufacturing, which will provide new opportunities for multi-institutional collaborations across the ATOMIC Center, leading to new discoveries and access to intellectual property for the ATOMIC Center members.”

In addition, all three universities will share world-class research facilities with one another. Facilities at Penn State’s Millennium Science Complex include a 9,500-square-foot clean room for nanofabrication, more than 70 instruments for characterization of 2D coatings, and a 2D materials lab dedicated to the synthesis of large-scale 2D materials. Facilities in Rice’s Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering include advanced instruments for the synthesis and characterization of low-dimensional materials and more than 100 instruments available for ATOMIC members through the Rice Shared Equipment Authority. Boise State’s facilities will leverage nanomaterial ink synthesis and characterization tools and a suite of materials printers located in the Micron Center for Materials Research in Boise and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls. Recent investments from the Murdock Charitable Trust will also provide ATOMIC faculty and students access to advanced scanning probe techniques to image 2D materials’ chemical, optical and thermal properties with nanoscale precision.

“We are very pleased about the renewal of the ATOMIC center,” said Jun Lou, Rice’s ATOMIC Center site director and professor of materials science and nanoengineering. “Rice researchers have been extremely productive working on ATOMIC projects, and we look forward to starting new projects that are well-aligned with Rice’s strategic emphasis and regional strength in both biomedical and sustainable energy research. This is a tremendous opportunity for our students to connect to the industry partners that have been and will continue to be a highlight of the ATOMIC success.”

The NSF’s I/UCRC program is designed to grow U.S. innovation capacity by seed funding long-term partnerships among industry, universities and the government. Members pool their funds to conduct pre-competitive research that solves fundamental problems that will advance the entire industry sector. The program builds relationships between companies and researchers and provides students with real-world experience and future employment opportunities. The NSF provides the organizational framework along with funding for center administration. The member companies provide funding for center research.

To learn more, visit the ATOMIC website or contact atomic@psu.eduatomic@rice.edu or taylorhartung@boisestate.edu.