Tomorrow's Materials

Designing better building blocks for tomorrow's technology

  • Nanomaterials

    Macromolecular science and engineering professor Liming Dai swapped pricey platinum catalysts in fuel cells for polymer-coated carbon nanomaterials, including nanotubes and graphene, to create significant cost savings.

    Reduce Cost

    Professor of macromolecular science and engineering Ica Manas-Zloczower found that using carbon-nanotube reinforced polymer composites on wind turbine blades could help the industry build bigger blades without breaking the budget.

    Increase efficiency

    Swarup Bhunia and Mehran Mehregany, both professors in the electrical engineering and computer science department, developed a computing platform using electromagnetic switches made of silicon carbide that can stand up to serious heat. With the ability to operate in temperatures over 500 degrees Celsius— the equivalent of the inside of a jet engine— these components could reduce the need for costly cooling systems for future computers.

  • Crystals

    A first in the field, world-renowned ceramics expert and NAE member Arthur Heuer used an ultrahigh- resolution electron microscope to capture subatomic images of defects in synthetic sapphire during high-temperature experiments. His team studied how subtle shifts in atomic structure control the properties of this technologically important material. The information and imaging technique can be applied to all crystalline solids, from microchips to thermal protection systems that shield jet engines.

  • Polymers

    An international team of engineers led by macromolecular science and engineering professor Stuart J. Rowan, director of the Institute for Advanced Materials, developed a brand-new polymer that heals itself in seconds when exposed to UV light.

    The self-repairing material could be used in a range of products from automotive paints to varnishes for furniture and floors in the not-too-distant future. The polymer's unique molecular makeup allows it to temporarily disassemble under UV light and reform once the light is removed. Using light to get the molecules moving instead of heat allows engineers to focus the fix on the damaged area and leave the rest of the material untouched.


    Chemical engineering professor Heidi Martin and electrical engineering professor Christian Zorman discovered the world's hardest material could help medical implants last a lifetime. The team is in the early stages of building electrodes that use a combination of lab-grown diamond film and a flexible polymer that won't corrode in the body's harsh environment.

    Zorman and Martin are designing sensors and stimulators for the human brain—devices that could measure chemical or electrical changes or stimulate nerves.