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UW-Madison small-scale research receives big boost

MADISON - The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Wisconsin-Madison Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) nearly $14.8 million over the next six years to continue its leading-edge research on the interfaces of materials at the nanoscale.

At this scale, materials are so minute that scientists often study or manipulate them atom-by-atom. The work could have wide-ranging applications in electronics and biology, including the use of atomic-scale materials to direct the growth and differentiation of embryonic stem cells.

Initially established in 1996, the interdisciplinary center combines the expertise of more than 30 faculty members in 13 UW-Madison departments and includes nearly 40 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers and about 20 undergraduate students. It was one of 11 re-competing nanotechnology centers to receive recent NSF funding.

"These are extremely, extremely competitive grants," says Juan de Pablo, a professor of chemical and biological engineering and the center's director. "Every major university would like to have a center like this."

With its renewed funding, and with a host of fresh faculty faces on board, the UW-Madison center will embark on several new areas of study, says de Pablo.

One interdisciplinary research group will design liquid-crystalline-based materials that could give scientists spatial and temporal control over the chemical functionality and physical properties of interfaces. "These materials, if successful, could be used to design new sensors for various classes of pathogens, viruses, proteins or toxic chemicals," he says. "And they could be used to influence or guide the growth and differentiation of cells, including human embryonic cells."

Under a secondary aspect of that work, researchers in the group will design substrates, or surfaces, with a controlled chemistry and nanoscale topography. "They will use this ability, again, to contro
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Contact: Juan de Pablo
depablo@engr.wisc.edu
608-262-7727
University of Wisconsin-Madison
30-Sep-2005


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