The University of Texas at Austin has been selected to receive an $18.5 million grant over the next five years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create and lead a nanosystems engineering research center.
The Nanomanufacturing Systems for Mobile Computing and Mobile Energy Technologies (NASCENT) will develop innovative nanomanufacturing, nanosculpting and nanometrology systems that could lead to versatile mobile computing devices such as wearable sensors, foldable laptops and rollable batteries.
This is the first time The University of Texas at Austin has been selected by the NSF to lead a prestigious and highly competitive engineering research center (ERC), and the first time since 1986 that a Texas university has been selected to lead an ERC. As of November 2011, there were 17 active ERCs across the United States.
Roger Bonnecaze and S.V. Sreenivasan, professors in the Cockrell School of Engineering, will lead the center.
"Nanomanufacturing is a critical advanced technology that can create sustainable high-paying jobs in the U.S. and energize industries across the electronics, energy, health care and security sectors," said Bonnecaze, NASCENT's co-principal investigator and chairman of the university's Chemical Engineering Department. "NASCENT's manufacturing systems will be crucial in helping transfer nanoscience discoveries from the lab to the marketplace."
With partners at the University of New Mexico and the University of California at Berkeley, NASCENT will create high-precision machines with integrated nanomaterials and multiscale models to enable the manufacturing of breakthrough nano-enabled mobile computing and energy devices.
"This is a game-changing center for not only UT, but for Texas and the nation," said Gregory L. Fenves, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. "Our interdisciplinary team of researchers and industry partners will move disruptive technologies from the lab to the market, creating revolutionary applications and the jobs to implement them."
The NASCENT center will also administer a pre-college program at each partner institution, working to identify students who are most likely to benefit and succeed from the program resources. The center expects to have 30 to 40 middle and high school students engaged as fellows when the program is fully operational.
"Nanotechnology is one of the most important frontiers there is," said William Powers Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin. "Nanoscale breakthroughs will usher in inventions and solutions we can only dream of today, and thanks to the National Science Foundation and our academic and corporate partners, The University of Texas at Austin will be right at the cutting edge."
These new technologies will have breakthrough performance in energy efficiency, computing, communications and data/energy storage capacity. For example, 40 percent of the energy used in cellphones is for reading and writing data to the phone's memory. Researchers at the center will develop emerging manufacturing technologies to reduce energy needed for cellphone memory storage by up to three-quarters, while increasing data storage density by more than five times its current capacity.
The center will also work toward developing silicon nanowires for improved anodes in lithium ion batteries. The nanowires could increase the storage capacity of batteries by fourfold.
"The center will significantly bolster and foster a culture of innovation that extends beyond the university," Sreenivasan said, adding that The University of Texas at Austin and its partners have developed 12 startup companies based on their manufacturing research, creating more than 1,000 jobs and resulting in more than 170 licensed patents.
Several industry partners will participate in NASCENT, including Texas Instruments, 3M, Lockheed Martin, Applied Materials and Corning Inc., among others.
"Texas Instruments is very excited to support the UT Austin research center in creating new paradigms in low-cost electronics manufacturing. The tools and applications to be developed by the NASCENT Center will be important to our industry," said Texas Instruments CEO Rich Templeton. "UT Austin is an outstanding university, and winning an NSF ERC award is a significant long-term research commitment that will extend their capabilities and will have far-reaching impact for many years to come."