UB Proposes Creation of a State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics

Release Date: March 15, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi travelled to Albany Tuesday to present members of the New York State Legislature and the governor's office with a proposal to designate a state Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics at the university.

The UB proposal asks for the establishment of a Center of Excellence in the 2012-13 state budget. The proposal does not include a request for funding, but university officials are hopeful state funding would follow. With that potential funding, new lab equipment would be purchased, additional faculty would be hired and potentially a new facility would be constructed for the center.

The proposal, supported by the Western New York legislative delegation, was well received by state officials.

An official designation of a New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics at UB would better position UB nationally in efforts to recruit faculty and pursue federal funding opportunities in this emerging and high-demand field.

"This is a tremendously exciting opportunity for UB -- one that fully leverages our considerable research strengths in materials-related fields, as well as our substantial supercomputing and informatics infrastructure," Tripathi said. "This is the perfect illustration of our successful 'strategic strengths' paradigm in action -- high-impact faculty research and collaboration at the intersection of key fields. It is exactly at this crossroads that our faculty are working to develop innovative solutions for the critical challenges facing our society today."

In the proposal to state officials, Tripathi explained there is a shortage of advanced materials in the U.S. for new technologies in energy, automotive, clean tech, medical and other industries. The UB Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics will help solve this problem, accelerating the discovery and commercialization of innovative new materials, including synthetic replacements for elements that are growing scarcer. This would foster increased industry collaboration, giving Western New York companies a competitive advantage and potentially creating thousands of jobs.

A focus on advanced materials would position UB, Western New York and New York State as leaders in a nationally important area of research and development. Tripathi noted that the UB proposal is aligned with state economic development strategies, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Regional Economic Development Council and $1 billion investment in Buffalo. The center would accelerate the deployment of advanced materials of strategic interest to New York State companies.

The development of new advanced materials also would create opportunities for regional manufacturers to repurpose existing facilities -- in line with the state's Regional Economic Development Council Smart Growth agenda.

Advanced materials are everywhere in our daily lives, from the fibers in Kevlar vests to the indium alloys in flat-screen TVs. New materials can help U.S. companies make lighter prosthetic limbs, cars that use less fuel and longer-lasting batteries for medical devices like pacemakers.

Currently, however, it can take 20 or more years for new advanced materials to reach consumers -- far too long, researchers say.

The UB Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics would use the latest robotics and data-intensive computing technology. The center would change the way materials research is conducted, speeding the discovery and deployment of advanced materials. Specifically, the center would make it possible for researchers to synthesize and test the properties of hundreds of materials at once, as opposed to one at a time.

This would complement the growth of Buffalo's downtown medical corridor, encouraging new research in biomedical engineering and medical devices.

The center's techniques for discovering new materials would mirror techniques that biologists have used to accelerate the discovery of new drugs using high-throughput technologies, computation and genomic research. The center would build databases describing the properties of a wealth of new materials, including materials predicted through advanced computing and analyzed through experimentation.

The center's databases, a library of practical information, could be mined by companies and entrepreneurs partnering with UB to develop new products quickly and efficiently. Through university innovation and industry collaboration, the center has substantial potential for job creation and economic growth.

Alexander N. Cartwright, PhD, vice president for research and economic development, said by building on UB's current research strengths in materials informatics, "the proposed center will provide a vehicle for translating our faculty's research into industrial applications -- this will provide an avenue to further build our relationships with Western New York and New York State industries, and will attract to our region new industries that have significant interest in materials."

He noted that UB is well-positioned to establish a Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics:

* UB's existing research strengths and infrastructure align with advanced materials research.

* Through seven years of strategic hiring, UB has built a core group of more than 50 scientists focused on materials synthesis, materials characterization and the integration of new materials in real-world products.

* As a testament to the quality of these faculty members, many have won the National Science Foundation's prestigious CAREER award.

* The New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences at UB houses a world-class computing center. Leveraging this resource will be critical to supporting the intensive computation and data mining required by materials informatics.

* The university and its researchers have strong relationships with industry and government partners, many of whom have strategic interests in advanced materials.

Thomas Furlani, PhD, director of UB's Center for Computational Research and interim associate vice president for information technology, said UB is uniquely positioned to support the demanding computational requirements of materials informatics research. "Our Center for Computational Research, a high-performance supercomputing facility, will be leveraged to accelerate the discovery of new materials," he said.

Specifically, the work of UB materials researchers is focused on, among other things, creating a compound for coating energy-efficient smart windows; developing an affordable, eco-friendly copper sulfide alloy for absorbing light in solar panels; and developing a rainbow-colored polymer that could turn cell phones into powerful imaging tools with applications ranging from matching paint colors to detecting disease.

The center would position Western New York well to receive new federal dollars through the White House's recently announced Materials Genome Initiative, which asks federal departments to invest in technologies that accelerate the discovery of advanced materials.

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John DellaContrada
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