UB Looks To Become National Leader in Materials Science

July 16, 2012 Updated Oct 10, 2013 at 3:54 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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July 16, 2012 Updated Oct 10, 2013 at 3:54 PM EDT

AMHERST, NY (release) - Monday, in the University at Buffalo’s Barbara and Jack Davis Hall Atrium, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced a major push for a five-year, $120 million federal research grant for UB’s new Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics as well as a commitment to find additional research funding opportunities for the center. Schumer was joined by UB President Satish Tripathi and UB Professor Dr. Mark Swihart. The federal grant, which UB has preliminarily applied for, would provide five years’ worth of funding for cutting-edge research to establish a Department of Energy “Innovation Hub.” University officials believe that federal research funding is the key to transforming UB’s newly created Materials Informatics Center of Excellence into a national center of critical materials research. This Department of Energy designation would go towards expanding research on materials science that could lead to the development of synthetic substitutes for rare earth elements, new clean energy alternatives, biomedical and life sciences technology, as well as advanced manufacturing. Schumer stressed that such areas of scientific research generate solutions for some of the nation’s greatest challenges, and that federal support for cutting-edge research in major industry clusters is the key that will unlock large scale business development in western New York, like it has at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany.

“The new UB Center of Excellence has the framework and expertise to become a national leader for advanced materials research, and I am bringing all hands on deck to launch UB’s unique research center to the top of the charts. If the Department of Energy and other federal partners invest in UB’s cutting edge research, new technology and high-tech companies are sure to follow,” said Schumer. “UB has already demonstrated a regional strength in critical materials research when the state designated the New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics on UB’s campus, and now this $120 million DOE grant is the oil that will help kick-start this economic engine for western New York. Just like we’ve seen occur at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany, this federal investment could transform this growing resource into a new Energy Innovation Hub – a center for world-class research and development that would attract the most talented scientists, engineers, and researchers from across the county and subsequently unlock major business development and job creation in western New York.”

"This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for not only UB and our research enterprise, but for our entire region and state,” said UB President Satish Tripathi. “The establishment of a New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics at UB will position our university and our region at the forefront of the emerging field of materials science - a rapidly expanding field with tremendous and wide-ranging social relevance. As Senator Schumer recognizes, securing federal funding will be key: this initiative simply will not move forward without it. We are very grateful for his recognition of the great potential of our new Center of Excellence, and his strong leadership in helping to move it forward."

UB’s Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics will focus on a number of critical research areas that are in line with both national priorities and western New York’s regional strengths. President Obama highlighted research in materials science as a major national research effort and UB is well positioned to capitalize on this new federal priority. UB's Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics could help lead to the development of synthetic substitutes for critical rare earth elements and help industry avoid the volatile pricing of these important resources from countries like China – a major national security imperative. Schumer has long fought back against China’s illegal hoarding of rare earth elements. In the past several years, the Chinese government has imposed strict export restraints and sky-high export taxes on these materials. This has meant a cheap and plentiful flow of rare earth elements within China, and an expensive and drastically limited global supply .The Chinese government’s actions have created yet another unfair trade advantage for Chinese manufacturers, causing markedly higher cost increases for high-tech and manufacturing companies in New York that produce items ranging from batteries to wind turbines, and from laser-guided weapons to night vision goggles. Schumer cited UB’s research into the production of synthetic rare earth elements as one of many advances in materials research that could give high-tech businesses and manufacturers across New York a competitive advantage in the global market.

Additionally, materials research could help support the growing biomedical and life sciences cluster in western New York, and attract new partners to this important effort. Materials science can help provide critical breakthroughs in the development of the next generation of medical devices and can use data-intensive analysis to improve healthcare outcomes. The research that UB’s Center for Excellence in Materials Informatics will conduct could be of critical value to the already growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Most importantly, UB and western New York are well positioned to transform this new cutting edge research into a magnet for existing businesses looking to grow, and new technologies in need of commercialization and investment. Companies seeking to grow and refine their advanced manufacturing processes will look to UB’s materials research for answers to key questions about product composition and development. By partnering with UB’s researchers, companies can cut costs and increase output by implementing new materials technology

The push for new funding for UB’s Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics follows a meeting in June, at Schumer’s request, involving the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and senior UB researchers. That meeting focused on new opportunities for federal funding to support cutting edge research in materials informatics. It also helped White House staff gain a better understanding for UB's growing capabilities and strengths and laid the groundwork for long term federal investment in western New York.

Schumer’s support for UB’s preliminary application to the Department of Energy for a $120 million research grant is the first of a number of potential federal research opportunities in western New York that could include partnerships with the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency. Schumer also stressed the importance of federal research funding to spurring local business and job growth.

"Federal support for cutting edge research in major industry clusters is not only a pivotal part of the federal government’s national energy strategy, it is also key to unlocking large scale business development in western New York. Success stories, such as the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany, demonstrate that when high-level research centers obtain significant federal funds, it can serve as a magnet for business development and job growth," said Schumer.