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Living in a materials world: ASU debuts new school

January 18, 2007
If you aspire to be an architect of the future, then materials science and engineering classrooms and laboratories are among the best places to get started on the design and building process.

So claim students in ASU's new School of Materials.

"Materials are the driving force for nearly all emerging technology,'' explains Jordan Kennedy, a senior in the school that was established July 1.

That theme will be explored when the launch of the School of Materials is celebrated Jan. 19, with a symposium featuring prominent academic and scientific research leaders. Among them will be Venky Narayanamurti, dean of Harvard University's Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Stanley Williams, director of Quantum Science Research at Hewlett Packard Labs; and George Poste, director of Biodesign Institute at ASU.

The new school is jointly administered by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

The materials field is providing a foundation for many of the advances in metals, polymers, ceramics and composites that are making aircraft safer, automobiles more fuel-efficient, industries more environmentally friendly, medical devices more effective and communications technologies more versatile, explains Allison Engstrom, president of Material Advantage, a club for ASU materials engineering students.

"There's a real buzz building up about the importance of materials research,'' says Allison's sister, Erika Engstrom, who chose to stay at ASU to pursue a graduate degree when the new school was formed. "The solution to almost every technological problem begins with improving the materials that things are made of."

Laptop computers, cell phones and iPods "have been made better and easier to use because of advancements in materials engineering," says doctoral student Morgan Bradshaw. The growing demand to make modern devices "smaller, faster, lighter and more durable" will continue to make it a vibrant field, he says.

Establishing a school of materials provides ASU "an entity that can compete effectively with the leading materials science and engineering school and departments," says Subhash Mahajan, director of the school, adding: "We are laying groundwork for something unique that many institutions across the nation will be watching."

The school's more than 130 graduate students and 70 undergraduate students are guided by more than 50 faculty members whose interests reflect ASU's goal to foster intensive collaboration between scientific, technological and entrepreneurial disciplines.

"The synthesis of disciplines defines what materials science is all about. The formation of the school enhances that synthesis by bringing together faculty from many different science and engineering backgrounds," says Cody Friesen, a professor in the school.

Materials engineers are joined on the faculty by physicists, chemists, biochemists, geologists and electrical engineers. The mix is a significant factor in attracting students.

"Math, physics, chemistry, electronics and just about any related discipline is a component of materials," Kennedy says. "The flexibility and range of subject matter is the most interesting and valuable part of materials science. From here, I can go into just about any technology industry."

Bob Zeller earned his undergraduate degree in engineering at Purdue University but has chosen ASU's graduate program in materials engineering for a variety of reasons.

"What's important to me is who I'm working with, and there are a lot of really interesting people here doing very interesting things," Zeller says.

The new school is "illustrative of the excitement and possibilities" embodied in ASU President Michael Crow's vision of the New American University, says Quentin Wheeler, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The school will play a significant role in fulfilling the mission of ASU to "engage students in research and education that will benefit society," adds Deirdre Meldrum, dean of the Fulton School of Engineering.