Seed Program

Chemically-triggered conversion of AuCu alloy nanoparticles to Au-Cu2S hybrid nanoparticles via nanoscale phase segregation (Photo Credit: Penn State)

The MRSEC Seed program is administered and funded in partnership with the Materials Research Institute. MRSEC/MRI Seed Grants support new high-risk/high-reward lines of research with the prospect to develop into significant new research programs at Penn State. Seed grant proposals can address any innovative interdisciplinary topic that cuts across the fields of materials, biology, science and/or engineering at the nanoscale. These grants are intended to break new ground, ideally through interdisciplinary approaches or multidisciplinary collaborations, rather than to augment existing projects. The grants provide $40,000-$100,000 for projects of 1-2 years duration. The students or post-docs supported with these funds will be expected to participate in MRSEC outreach activities. Below is a listing of current and recent seed projects.

How to apply for a Seed Grant

2018 Seed Projects

  • "iSuperSeed2: Biologically-Produced Nanomaterials (BPN)," Seong Kim (Chem. Eng., MatSE), Venkatraman Gopalan (MatSE), Daniel Cosgrove (Bio),  Ying Gu (BMB), Jeffrey Catchmark (Ag. Bio. Eng.), Zoubeida Ounaies (Mech. Nuc. Eng.), Elizabeth Elacqua (Chem.), and Lasse Jensen (Chem.)

This iSuperSeed2 asks the provocative question: can the Rules of Life be deployed to adapt the highly-sophisticated synthesis and assembly machinery of living systems to the production of new crystalline, symmetry-enabled functional materials whose modes of material response arise directly from the exquisitely organized underlying biological substrate but are well beyond those that have been the subject of evolutionary processes to date? The iSuperSeed2 team will leverage plant biology research of the DOE-funded Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation (CLSF), which seeks a deeper understanding of the plant cell wall, in part by adapting methods of materials research in service of biology to conversely induce biological systems to create new materials. As described below, genotype and extracellular environment will be modified and adapted to control the structure, composition, and crystalline order of cellulose across length scales in search of new modes of symmetry-enabled materials response such as strong single-domain piezoelectric response and the first examples of cellulosic ferroelectricity. Such proofs-of-principle would set the groundwork for IRG-level investigations into a broader range of non-linear electromechanical and optical functions in highly-ordered, symmetry-enabled materials whose “materials phenotype” follows directly from their progenitor genotype and environment. The lessons learned in controlling the critical nanoscale and mesoscale ordering in these materials will then feedback to provide new perspectives on the mechanisms of organization on these scales in the purely biological domain. This transdisciplinary effort combines three highly disparate fields: the materials response of highly-ordered crystalline systems, the genomic manipulation of plant cell biology, and the chemical principles of molecular assembly, and it converges the distinct research capabilities of DOE-sponsored (CLSF) and NSF-sponsored (MRSEC) Centers.

2015-2016 Seed Projects

  • "Two-dimensional GaN," Joan Redwing (MatSE), Josh Robinson (MatSE)

2014 Seed Projects

  • "Magnetic 2D Layered Semiconductors," Jun Zhu (Phys.), Josh Robinson (MatSE.), Tom Mallouk (Chem.), Vin Crespi (Phys.)

2013 Seed Projects

  • "Superconductivity and Fluxon Trapping in Long Nanowires," Moses Chan (Phys.), John Badding (Chem.), Chao-xing Liu (Phys.), Jainendra Jain (Phys.), Ho-Kwang Mao (Carnegie)

2012 Seed Projects

  • "Defect Engineering of 2-D Sheets of Layered Materials," Mauricio Terrones (Phys.), Eric Hudson (Phys.), Tom Mallouk (Chem.), Jun Zhu (Phys.), Zhiwen Liu (Elec. Eng.)

2011 Seed Projects

  • "Nanostructured Phase Change Building Blocks for Optical Metamaterials," Raymond Schaak (Chem.) and Kyle Bishop (Chem. Eng.)
  • "New Roto Symmetries and Properties in Complex Oxides," Susan Trolier-McKinstry (MatSE) and Venkatraman Gopalan (MatSE)

2010 Seed Projects

  • "Spin Polarization Control in Graphene," Jun Zhu (Phys.) and Nitin Samarth (Phys.)
  • "Charge Transfer Complex Organic Photovoltaics," J. Asbury (Chem.), V. Crespi (Phys.), E. Gomez (Chem. Eng.), and M. Hickner (MatSE)