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PNNL, UW create materials research initiative

The Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and the University of Washington have created the Northwest Institute for Materials Physics, Chemistry and Technology (NW IMPACT)—a joint research endeavor to power discoveries and advancements in materials that transform energy, telecommunications, medicine, information technology and other fields.

The institute builds on a history of successful partnerships between the UW and the PNNL, including joint faculty appointments and past collaborations such as the Materials Synthesis and Simulations Across Scales Initiative, the PNNL-led Battery 500 consortium and a new UW-based Materials Research Science and Engineering (MRSEC) Center.

NW IMPACT is the beginning of a long-term partnership, forging deeper ties between the UW and PNNL. The goal is to leverage these respective strengths to enable discoveries, innovations and educational opportunities that would not have been possible by either institution alone.

David Ginger, a UW professor of chemistry and chief scientist at the UW Clean Energy Institute, will co-lead the institution in its initial phase with Jim De Yoreo, chief scientist for materials synthesis and simulation across scales at PNNL and a joint appointee at the UW.

Over the first few years NW IMPACT aims to hire a permanent institute director, who will be based at both PNNL and the UW; create at least 20 new joint UW-PNNL appointments among existing researchers; streamline access to research facilities at the UW’s Seattle campus and PNNL’s Richland campus for institute projects; involve at least 20 new UW graduate students in PNNL-UW collaborations; and provide seed grants to institute-affiliated researchers to tackle new scientific frontiers in a collaborative fashion.

Some of the areas in which NW IMPACT will initially focus include:

  • Materials for energy conversion and storage, which can be applied to more efficient solar cells, batteries and industrial applications. These include innovative approaches to create flexible, ultrathin solar cells for buildings or fabrics, long-lasting batteries for implantable medical devices, catalysts to enable high efficiency energy conversion and industrial processes, and manufacturing methods to synthesize these materials efficiently for commercial applications.

  • Quantum materials, such as ultrathin semiconductors or other materials that can harness the rules of quantum mechanics at subatomic-level precision for applications in quantum computing, telecommunications and beyond.

  • Materials for water separation and utilization, which include processes to make water purification and ocean desalination methods faster, cheaper and more energy-efficient.

  • Biomimetic materials, which are synthetic materials inspired by the structures and design principles of biological molecules and materials within our cells — including proteins and DNA. These materials could be applicable in medical settings for implantable devices or tissue engineering, and for self-assembled protein-like scaffolds in industrial settings.

NW IMPACT will draw on the unique strengths and talents of each institution for innovative collaborations in these areas. For example, PNNL has broad expertise in materials for improved batteries. The lab also offers best-in-class imaging, NMR and mass spectrometry capabilities at EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE User Facility. DOE supports fundamental research at PNNL in chemistry, physics and materials sciences that are key to materials development.

The UW brings complementary facilities and equipment to the partnership, such as the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds and a cryo-electron microscopy facility, as well as expertise in a variety of “big data” research and training endeavors, highly rated research and education programs, and ongoing materials research projects through the National Science Foundation-funded Molecular Engineering Materials Center.

NW IMPACT is inviting proposals for UW/PNNL collaborative multi-investigator research projects. Proposals are due 26 February 2018.

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