Partnership for Research & Education in Materials (PREM): NCCU

The partnership between North Carolina Central University and the Penn State Center for Nanoscale Science advances institutional research and educational capabilities in materials at NCCU and strengthens the pipeline for the advancement of underrepresented minorities in STEM disciplines. The core research thrusts are: (1) charge transport in individual and coupled semiconductor nanostructures, (2) plasmonic materials for optical filter and sensor applications, (3) functionalized 2D materials for spintronic and electronic applications, and (4) seed projects on properties of nanoscale patterned ferroics and development of perovskite based multiferroic materials.

The partnership addresses a key educational challenge, manifested in the low participation of underrepresented minorities in material science. Our four-tiered strategy consists of (a) recruitment  targeted at the best and brightest high school and community college transfer students in the region by highlighting the central role of material science in the 21st century, (b) academic enrichment programs focused on materials science, (c) an innovative peer mentoring "Penn Pal" program which will pair minority participants in the MRSEC program with NCCU student participants in PREM, and (d) productive research experiences at the frontiers of material science supported by close mentoring by both NCCU and MRSEC faculty and researchers at all levels. Broad and deep links will be fostered between the PREM research thrusts and ongoing projects in the PSU MRSEC – both established IRGs and seed projects. These links will leverage the expertise and resources in the PSU MRSEC to generate important scientific advances in the short term as well as create sustainable research programs at NCCU in these four areas. The key scientific challenges that are addressed in this proposal are (a) the ability to introduce reproducible band-gaps and controllable magnetic functionality to graphene and similar 2D systems, (b) controlling optical properties of metal nanoparticle and thin films for multispectral imaging devices, and (c) characterizing carrier dynamics and uncovering new phenomena in coupled nanoscale semiconductor systems. In all cases, the facilities and expertise available at Penn State are critical enablers for the PREM resaerch effort to transition to a level where these achievements can be utilized in actual devices.

This partnership is enabling NCCU to build a sustainable material science program with a national reputation which will produce competitive students from traditionally disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds who are ready to pursue graduate programs in material science. Our joint outreach efforts, which leverage existing MRSEC programs and the strong relationships forged between NCCU, local high schools, community colleges, other local HBCUs and museums, enable us to increase public awareness of materials and increase the pool of potential participants. The three pillars represented by quality academic and research programs, broad outreach, and competitive infrastructure constitute the foundation for success.