More Huskies will be roaming the research labs of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with the Wednesday announcement of a joint research institute in materials science.
The collaboration will bring together the strengths of the University of Washington and the Department of Energy national lab in Richland to advance development of materials for energy, telecommunications, medicine and other fields.
Many innovations of 21st century life — from touchscreens and electric cars to fiber optics and implantable devices — grew out of research on new materials.
“And yet we have only scratched the surface,” said Steven Ashby, PNNL director.
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The joint institute is being called NW Impact, short for Northwest Institute for Materials Physics, Chemistry and Technology.
PNNL has some of the world’s most advanced scientific instruments on its campus, including electron microscopes and atom probes, said Ana Mari Cauce, UW president, speaking in Richland.
The campus includes DOE’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, which UW visitors toured on Wednesday.
UW has some of the top-ranked scientists for materials research impact in the world, said Ashby.
“By combining ideas, talent and resources, I have no doubt our two organizations will find new ways to improve lives and provide our generation of materials scientists with valuable research opportunities,” Ashby said.
A call for project proposals went out Wednesday to staff at PNNL and UW, for research that could involve multiple researchers and graduate students at the two institutions.
“Our philosophy is the way we are going to drive this partnership forward is with graduate students carrying out research that is collaborative between PNNL staff and University of Washington faculty,” said Jim De Yoreo, a PNNL chief scientist and co-director of NW Impact. Graduate students would do research in both Richland and Seattle.
Scientific areas will be targeted with opportunities in the next two to three years to build outside funded programs, he said.
The research will “move beyond traditional techniques to design and create entirely new materials with tailored properties and functions to do entirely new things for us,” Ashby said.
Initial research could focus on:
▪ Materials for energy conversion and storage, which can be applied to more efficient solar cells, batteries and industrial applications. They could lead to ultrathin solar cells for buildings or fabrics, and long-lasting batteries for implantable medical devices.
▪ Materials for water separation and use, which could included processes to make water purification and ocean desalination methods faster, cheaper and more energy efficient.
▪ Biomimetic materials, or synthetic materials that mimic the structure and design of biological molecules and materials within cells. The new materials could have medical applications for implantable devices and tissue engineering or applications.
PNNL and UW already have six joint appointments of staff — three from each agency — related to materials science, but plan to expand that to 10 from each institution, said De Yoreo, who has one of the joint appointments.
NW Impact also will hire a permanent institute director, who will split time between UW and PNNL.
At least 20 new UW graduate students will work on NW Impact institutions, providing a pipeline of new researchers for PNNL.
Collaboration is nothing new for PNNL and UW, Ashby said.
But NW Impact is planned as the beginning of a long-term partnership, forging deeper ties between UW and PNNL.
Past collaborations have included the Materials Synthesis and Simulations Across Scales Initiative, the PNNL-led battery 500 consortium and a new UW-based Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.
“We are joining together our expertise and experiences to create the next generation of leaders, who will create the materials of the future,” said David Ginger, a UW professor of chemistry.
Together the two institutions will have more impact and demonstrate the leadership of the state of Washington, Ashby said.