Published June 30, 2014
UB has launched the Department of Materials Design and Innovation (MDI), a forward-leaning, interdisciplinary initiative that will address regional and national demand for new materials that accelerate research and education in advanced manufacturing and biotechnology.
A collaborative effort between the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences, the new department will build on UB’s existing research expertise to discover, develop and bring to market new materials that are critical to the economic security of the region, nation and world.
MDI will strongly emphasize the use of advanced computational tools, in conjunction with bench science, to hasten the time it takes to discover and commercialize new materials, as well as reduce the cost to develop them. MDI also will train future generations of materials scientists and engineers to be more efficient in developing new materials solutions to real-world problems.
These goals match those of the White House’s Materials Genome Initiative, which says it can take 10 to 20 years to utilize new materials in commercial products. The White House wants to reduce the cycle to two or three years. They also align with various state programs that aim to boost economic development in Western New York and beyond.
MDI evolved from the UB 2020 strategic plan to position UB as a leading public university by investing in and focusing its research strengths on solving important societal problems related to the themes of humanity, justice, environment, innovation and health.
“At the heart of UB 2020 is our desire to provide unique educational and engagement opportunities, and pursue impactful scholarship that responds to the problems and needs of our local and global communities. We recognize that responding to these issues involves collaborative research and education across disciplinary lines, which can lead to the emergence of new disciplines like MDI,” says Provost Charles F. Zukoski.
“By bringing together the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences to deliver innovative research and train future materials scientists, responding to national and regional priorities, and offering new opportunities for partnerships, the Department of Materials Design and Innovation exemplifies the kind of interdisciplinary collaboration UB aspires to undertake in UB 2020.”
MDI received a significant boost from UB alumnus Erich Bloch, who donated $1.5 million to the university to establish the Erich Bloch Endowed Chair for the newly formed department. Bloch earned a BS in electrical engineering from UB in 1952. He went on to become a high-ranking executive at IBM and director of the National Science Foundation from 1984 to 1990. Bloch and two others received the National Medal of Technology — now the National Medal of Technology and Innovation — in 1985.
UB is conducting an international search for a world-class scholar and researcher to fill the chair and lead the department.
MDI will build upon UB’s existing faculty expertise in computer science, physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, environmental engineering, electrical engineering, biomedical engineering, and chemical and biological engineering. Plans call for establishing master’s and PhD degree programs initially, with an undergraduate program to be added later, as well as hiring 12 tenure-track faculty members.
“New and improved materials, with increased functionality, lower costs, lighter weights and lowered environmental impacts, play a critical role in advanced manufacturing and biotechnology,” says Liesl Folks, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “We now stand on the cusp of being able to greatly accelerate the development of these new materials using advanced computational tools, and UB’s new department of MDI will play a leadership role in this field and in training the next generation of materials scientists and engineers.”
E. Bruce Pitman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says that MDI “will bring together a unique combination of skills, from data science and from material synthesis and characterization, to develop ‘designer materials’ — the deliberate creation of materials with specific properties.”
“The impact of this kind of capability on the nation’s technologies and manufacturing will be enormous. At the same time, the department will provide students with unique training in an atmosphere that transcends department and discipline to be at the forefront of the latest developments in science and engineering.”
MDI researchers will focus on:
They will work closely with several initiatives at UB, including the New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics, the Center for Computational Research and the Computational and Data-enabled Science and Engineering program, and the Advanced Manufacturing Institute announced in February by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
MDI’s research portfolio will support the SUNY Materials and Advanced Manufacturing Network of Excellence and the goals of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, which was created by the governor to stimulate economic development and the creation of jobs.
The UB department will receive financial support from UB’s E Fund initiative, a competitive program created by the UB provost to spur collaborative initiatives, expand the university’s impact and enhance students’ educational experiences. It also will rely on the SUNY Empire Innovation Fund, corporate partnerships and private philanthropy.
UB will form an external advisory board, which will include academic and corporate members, to provide the department with an outlook for future opportunities and challenges from both university and corporate perspectives.