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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Science departments awareded NSF grant

Published: September 19, 2008
Section: Front Page

The National Science Foundation has awarded Brandeis University $7.8 million dollars over six years to create a Materials Research Science and Engineering Center. Brandeis will become one of 26 universities in the country to house a MRSEC.

A MRSEC is a research center dedicated to “interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary materials research and education,” according to

Brandeis’ MRSEC “will study the effects of imposing constraints on materials, such as DNA confined in cells and the self-assembly of large arrays of rod-like virus particles, as a guide to engineering semiconductor nano-particles into shapes and forms suitable for applications such as biosensors and solar cells,” a university press release said.

“Everything we’re doing is connecting physical science with biological science,” Prof. Robert Meyer (PHYS) said, “getting this grant is really proving how really strong, how unique we are in that area.”

Every three years, Meyer explained, the NSF holds a competition for 13 of the 26 MRSEC spots. Universities must reapply to keep their MRSEC every six years. Meyer explained that there were 100 applicants, 13 of which were renewals.

In August of last year, members of Brandeis’ science faculty, including Prof. Bruce Goode (BIO), Prof. Jane Kondev (PHYS), Prof. Zvonomir Dogic (PHYS), and Prof. Azadeh Samani (PHYS) gathered to draft a preliminary proposal.

Of the 100 preliminary proposals submitted to the NSF, 36 were selected to write full proposals. In April, Meyer said, they were notified that Brandeis was among 18 finalists.

Four representatives were sent to Washington D.C. to appear before a panel in May and in July, they were informed that Brandeis had been chosen. The grant was made official Sept. 1.

The university is among five schools to receive the grant for the first time. Schools such as Columbia and Stanford lost their funding.

Brandeis “is the smallest school to ever have [a MRSEC],” Meyer said.

“This puts at the top of the heap for the type of research we do,” Meyer commented, “that’s the really exciting part.”

Kondev agreed. He said in an e-mail, “It is quite an achievement given our size,” and continued, “also, it is a testament to the close collaborations that exist between researchers in the physical and the life sciences, which are at the core of the activities supported by the Center.”

Meyer explained that for years, Brandeis has conducted “very interdisciplinary science that’s between departments.” That research, he said, helped the university win the grant.

In addition to the many research opportunities the presence of a MRSEC affords graduate and undergraduate students, Meyer hoped the grant might “push Brandeis in a new direction.”

For example, he remarked, “we don’t have an engineering department. This would be a good time to think about establishing a department.”

The MRSEC grant marks the third prestigious award Brandeis’ science department has received. The department has a Howard Hughes Medical Center grant and an Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeship grant from NSF.

“The three of them together is great support,” Meyer said. “We’ve built this up step by step…MRSEC is a crowning achievement.”

Meyer added, “it’s saying to the world ‘we can do this. We have the expertise.’”