Published: Nov. 5, 2018

Two faculty members in electrical, computer and energy engineering have won grants from the U.S. Department of Education to train students with the skills needed to design high-tech materials, and the ability to teach those skills to others.

Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) provides fellowships for graduate students who are planning to pursue a degree in a field designated as an area of national need. Both CU Boulder projects are aimed at keeping the U.S. competitive in materials research in the face of rapid growth in Asian research efforts.     

­­Both projects will also focus on recruiting women and underrepresented minority students, in order to better meet the needs of today’s workforce.

Materials for Energy Conversion and Sustainability

Won Park, with lab equipment in the background.Professor Won Park, along with Jennifer Cha of chemical and biological engineering, will lead a GAANN program focused on designing the next-generation materials needed for domestic science, economics and defense.

These materials must perform specific functions, but also need to use less energy, be non-toxic to the environment and depend on renewable energy sources – goals that can sometimes be contradictory and difficult to meet.

For example, polymers are important materials for preserving structure and packaging consumer products, but environmental needs require that they can be recycled and reused. New photonic and electronic 2- and 3D nanoscale materials are also required for electronic and optical components that can be integrated into living systems as parts of low-power, flexible, wireless devices or smart, sustainable drug delivery agents.

Other example technology issues that will be addressed the GAANN students will include polymers as biomaterial scaffolds and drug delivery systems, solventless processing via photopolymerization, nanostructured organics for separation and purification, optical nanostructures for energy conversion, nanoscale catalysts for fuel production from biomass and renewable resources, photocatalysts for wastewater pretreatment, enzymes for fuel production, nonlinear optical materials for sensing, computing and communications, self-assembled nanomaterials, advanced ceramic materials, and organic and hybrid inorganic photovoltaic devices.

The project will also address how materials engineering techniques can be better integrated into electrical and chemical engineering curricula.

Other faculty members involved in the project are Juliet Gopinath, Shu-Wei Huang, Robert McLeod, Garret Moddel, Rafael Piestun and Sean Shaheen of electrical, computer and energy engineering, and Kristi Anseth, Chris Bowman, Robert Davis, Adam Holewinski, Andrew Goodwin, Michael McGehee, Will Medlin, Charles Musgrave, Dan Schwartz and Alan Weimer from chemical and biological engineering.  

Soft Materials

Professor Robert McLeod, along with Stephanie Bryant of chemical and biological engineering, will lead a GAANN focused on the growing field of soft materials.

Since the founding of the soft materials field 30 years ago, the unique behaviors of these materials have spawned entirely new disciplines of soft robotics, nanofabrication, DNA-directed self-assembly, liquid crystals, artificial muscles, regenerative medicine and many more.

Bob McLeod in the lab with a student.Students involved with the program could create new concrete-polymer composites that keep civil infrastructure from failing due to freezing and aging; light-converting polymer films that enhance plant growth in green houses; transparent and thermally insulating flexible polymeric films to improve energy efficiency for windowpanes; new classes of polymers to enable recycling while maintaining ease of manufacture and properties; new theories of dynamic networks that describe polymers with reversible bonds in active soft matter; next generation holographic polymers for augmented reality headsets; soft optics for deep, chronic and high quality tissue imaging such as the brain; and 3D printed structural polymers and stem-cell laden hydrogels for cartilage repair.

The program will increase the pool of well-trained PhD students in the soft materials area ready to enter research and teaching jobs in academia and industry. Students will have each had academic exposure through supervised teaching, industrial exposure through industrial or international internships, and community exposure through outreach experience to K-12 schools or the general public.

Other faculty members involved in the project are Kristi Anseth, Chris Bowman, Andrew Goodwin, Charles Musgrave, Daniel Schwartz, Jeffrey Stansbury and Timothy White of chemical and biological engineering, and Yifu Ding, Christoph Keplinger, Ivan I. Smalyukh, Wil Srubar, Wei Tang, Franck Vernerey and Xiaobo Yin of the Materials Science and Engineering Program.