If you want to do research that solves problems facing global industries, it helps to form partnerships with the industries you want to help. That’s the idea behind the National Science Foundation’s new Center for Dielectrics and Piezoelectrics, being led by NC State and Penn State.
“Broadly speaking, our goal is to work with industry to address outstanding research questions and contribute to the fundamental knowledge that leads to innovative technologies and products,” says Beth Dickey, director of the center and a professor of materials science and engineering at NC State.
“The center has 18 inaugural industry partners, and we’re working with them to identify areas where their needs and our interdisciplinary expertise overlap to develop a research portfolio,” Dickey says. “This sort of dialogue and planning helps us determine our research priorities.”
The center, which was announced March 1, is part of NSF’s Industry & University Cooperative Research Program. The center is supported with $830,000 in NSF funding over five years, primarily to cover operating and infrastructure expenses. The bulk of the center’s research funds come from member organizations.
Dielectrics are insulator materials that are used in an enormous array of consumer products. For example, every handheld device has hundreds of capacitors, which are dielectric components that can store and manage electric charge. Dielectrics are also used in transportation; communication, defense, energy, and security technologies – as well as medical applications ranging from ultrasound to MRIs to defibrillators.
Piezoelectrics are a subset of dielectrics, with a number of different applications. For example, because piezoelectrics are able to turn mechanical energy into electric energy, they hold promise for creating new energy-harvesting technologies, sensors, actuators and microelectromechanical systems (or MEMS).
The center is starting out with a handful of research focus areas. For example, the center is planning to work on developing capacitors that can operate at high temperatures. This is a key area of study for developing next generation power devices, such as the devices that are the focus of the Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which was announced by President Obama at NC State in January.
“We would welcome additional industry partners, primarily because we want to make sure we are working to answer the most important questions facing the industrial sector as a whole,” Dickey says. “We want to serve as a focal point for anyone working with dielectric materials while providing international leadership for the field.”