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Materials Center Gets $19.9 Million Grant

By Venkatesh Satish
Staff Reporter

The Center for Materials Science and Engineering at MIT recently won a $19.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The CMSE's grant award narrowly staved off "disaster," said Professor of Physics Marc A. Kastner, director of the CMSE. "It would have been a disaster for us. We would have had no way to support the facilities, and research groups would have ceased to be. It would have been a terrible blow to materials science at MIT."

Kastner added that the NSF grant, which covers a 54 month period, is a significant source of funding for the whole materials science community at MIT.

The grant "represents an increase of 11 percent in annual funding and will support the research of 39 faculty in five departments of the Schools of Science and Engineering, 40 graduate students, 13 postdoctoral associates, and a variety of sophisticated experimental facilities available to the entire MIT community," Kastner said in Tech Talk last week ["CMSE Wins Major Grant from NSF," Oct. 26, 1994].

Martin Greven G, a student in the physics department who is doing research on high-temperature superconductors, said that the grant was a "big psychological boost because we can operate the way we have been. It means that MIT, in the materials science sector, can remain as competitive as it has been."

The new grant will also promote faculty cooperation since professors do not individually seek funding, Kastner said. "Basically, this program allows and really encourages people to work together. Without this program, it is difficult to work together in a coherent way."

"The mission of our center is to show that there is more to be gained by working with people of different backgrounds," Kastner said.

Kastner also emphasized the importance of the NSF grant to the MIT community. "This grant helps to pay for shared facilities such as the electron microscopy laboratory, which is used by virtually everyone in the materials community, as well as industries."

Fortunately, groups from MIT received good reviews from the anonymous referees from the NSF, Kastner said. "It's not easy these days for great research universities to do well. This was a great success for MIT and shows that in a fair competition, when we work very hard, we can do extremely well."

The grant is from a new NSF program called Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers, which emphasizes fundamental problems in science and engineering that have societal implications, Kastner said.

"It was understood early on by the NSF that, to manage problems in science, particularly in materials science and engineering, you needed people with different backgrounds working together to try to solve problems that were technologically important or had scientific interest," Kastner said.

The revised NSF system reflects a change from the previous Materials Research Laboratories program, with increased flexibility regarding appropriation of the money, said Kastner.

"Previously, all materials science labs were very large, having between three and six groups of faculty, students, and postdocs. Under the new program, one could design a center of any size, from four or five groups working on a project to five or six groups working on different projects."