The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at Johns Hopkins has won a five-year $5.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the NSF announced recently.
Hopkins' center began in 1997 after Hopkins researchers won an NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center grant. Rules of the grant program require half of the 25 materials sciences centers it establishes nationally to recompete for continued funding every four years. The Hopkins center has just succeeded in its second competition for NSF support.
The center specializes in the study of nanostructure materials, which include thin films just billionths of an inch thick. When produced in such extraordinarily small dimensions, many materials have markedly different electronic and magnetic properties useful in a variety of technological applications.
"This is true not just of individual materials but of combined materials," says Chia-Ling Chien, a professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Hopkins center. "You can put a thin film of material B on top of a thin film of material A and suddenly have properties present in neither A nor B originally."
Center researchers also are studying nanowires, wires with diameters in the billionths of an inch; half-metallic ferromagnets, which exhibit unusual conducting properties that are sensitive to the magnetic state of the material; and single-crystal films composed of the element bismuth.
Chien, who specializes in magnetic thin films, said areas of application for nanostructure materials include improving the performance of the thin, finely structured films of metal used to create "read heads" on computer hard drives.
Researchers at the center also are working to develop nanostructure materials for new magnetoelectronic devices. Unlike traditional electronic devices that rely only on electronic charge, magnetoelectronic devices manipulate both the charge and the spin of electrons, opening up new possibilities for information storage.
Chien notes that both of these technologies did not originate at the Hopkins center, but says center researchers are applying their expertise to improve and further develop them.
Under the new NSF funding, effective last month, the center will support research by eight scientists from Hopkins, two from Brown University and one from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The center also will host two educational outreach programs dedicated to giving students and teachers experience in the laboratory and will hold an Advanced Materials Day open house program with seminars and presentations for students, parents and teachers.
The eight Hopkins researchers supported by the center hold positions in both the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and in the Whiting School of Engineering. They are Robert Cammarata and Peter Searson, Materials Science and Engineering; James Harden and Kathleen Stebe, Chemical Engineering; Gerald Meyer, Chemistry; Daniel Reich, Physics and Astronomy; and David Veblen, Earth and Planetary Sciences.