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Mahajan to lead ASU's new School of Materials

August 09, 2006

ASU's drive to accelerate its advance to the forefront of technology innovation is taking a major stride with the creation of the School of Materials.

It's in the materials science and engineering labs where the building blocks of the future are being developed, says Subhash Mahajan, founding director of the school, which begins offering classes in the fall semester.

“Throughout history, human progress has been tied to the advances in materials,” Mahajan says. “Every age of civilization, like the Bronze Age or the Iron Age, is associated with a material. Today we are in the Materials Age.

“You cannot succeed in any technology today unless you can make better materials. In our work in this new school, we want to fast-forward the future of materials science. Our curriculum will prepare students for many of the most pivotal challenges in the technology world and in academia.”

Studies in the science and engineering of metals, ceramics, polymers, composites and functional materials will provide students the knowledge required for a broad array of pursuits in the field. They will be trained in the materials aspects of microelectronics, nanotechnology and other technologies critical to biomedical, communications and energy industries.

The School of Materials is designed as a transdisciplinary unit, combining faculty, resources and the oversight of the deans from ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

“The university has invested significantly over the years in the development of educational and research infrastructure for the advancement of materials science and engineering,” says David Young, ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “These past efforts have been distributed in various academic and research units across the university. The new school brings them together to be better positioned to address transdisciplinary materials research challenges.”

The Center for Solid State Science of the College of Liberal Arts and Science also will be part of the new School of Materials. The center pursues research in solid-state physics and chemistry, Earth and planetary sciences, and materials.

The collaborative effort between the Fulton School of Engineering and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, “helps the university combine some of its major strengths in research,” says Edward Hall, associate dean of research for the engineering school.

That should help ASU compete for funding for more and larger materials research projects, Hall says.

“These collaborations are a good fit,” says Nate Newman, director of the Center for Solid State Science. “We have world-class facilities and researchers. There's clearly the potential to be a powerhouse of materials science.”

Many of the projects and programs that are part of the School of Materials already have strong connections to industry, “so we are going to have a big impact on the growth of Arizona's silicon desert,” Newman says.

He sees the materials development industry poised to become the nexus of 21st century innovation.

“All the big advances in computers, aerospace and transportation are going to involve materials,” Newman says. “This will be a major area of invention. New materials will be at the center of advances in areas such as communications, things like cell phones and iPods. This field touches each and every part of what modern technology is about.”

Adds Mahajan: “We have the faculty expertise and resources so that educationally we can be one of the best schools in materials.”

ASU's School of Materials will be among the larger materials science and engineering programs in the United States, with 70 undergraduate and 130 graduate students, and initially about 20 faculty members and 35 faculty affiliates. The school is expected to grow to 100 undergraduate and 150 graduate students in the next three years.

Mahajan, recently elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering, was selected as founding director of the school after a national search.

For the past six years, Mahajan has been chair of the Fulton School's Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, which has been renamed the Department of Chemical Engineering. Professor Jerry Y.S. Lin is interim chair. The department remains in the Fulton School.