South Carolina University Consortium Awarded $20 Million NSF Grant to Enhance Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Research

A new grant from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research will position South Carolina as a leader in advanced materials manufacturing, and develop a new pipeline of diverse and highly skilled talent through collaborations among ten colleges and universities around the state.

A statewide consortium of advanced materials researchers and educators has landed a $20 million, five-year Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-1 award from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). This grant will establish a new initiative called Materials Assembly and Design Excellence in South Carolina, or MADE in SC. This unique collaboration unites 10 South Carolina institutions of higher education in a commitment to lead the way in advanced materials research and development, build capacity of existing South Carolina industries and attract new ones.

“The MADE in SC grant represents the culmination of several years of collaborative work across the Palmetto State,” said Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti, USC Vice President for Research, who serves as the principal investigator and Project Director on this award. “Thanks to the $20 million NSF EPSCoR investment, we will build on the impressive network of expertise and infrastructure that already exists in the state, further strengthening our reputation as a manufacturing powerhouse, and growing our materials research and development enterprise to new heights.”

The collaborating partners in MADE in SC include the state’s three comprehensive research universities (USC, Clemson University, and the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC), four research-active, predominantly undergraduate colleges (the College of Charleston, Furman University, USC Beaufort and Winthrop University), public and private historically black universities (South Carolina State University, SCSU, and Claflin University) and a public technical college (Florence-Darlington Technical College).

Each institution has a unique role to play in the ambitious MADE in SC project, capitalizing on existing strengths and strategically allocating resources and responsibilities to maximize impacts where they will make the biggest difference. Together, the MADE in SC consortium will engage in advanced materials research and development, create a pipeline of highly trained workers to enter South Carolina’s advanced manufacturing industry and increase the capacity for economic growth and vitality in the state. As part of its focus, this effort will expand workforce diversity through programming aimed at increasing underrepresented faculty hires as well as graduate and undergraduate students pursuing advanced materials research at all participating institutions.

Dr. Rajendra Bordia, the project’s co-principal investigator and its Scientific Director, from Clemson University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, explains how MADE in SC will benefit South Carolina. “Our state is home to many large and small industries and research institutions for which advanced materials are critically important. Examples include GE, Miliken, Boeing, BMW, Michelin, Tetramer, CuRE Innovations, IBM, Izumi International, AVX, Poly-Med and Savanah River National Labs. South Carolina also has a continuing strategic goal of bringing research and development activities into the state, to complement and enhance the manufacturing industry. The new award from NSF will do both, supporting existing industries and attracting new ones. It will also position South Carolina to be a leader in advanced materials research and development.”

USC President Harris Pastides commented, “I am proud that all of the Palmetto State’s research universities are working together along with other institutions across the state to have such a positive impact on South Carolina’s research capacity and industrial prosperity for years to come.”

“South Carolina’s universities have a responsibility to act as engines of discovery and economic development,” said Clemson President Jim Clements. “Clemson and our colleagues across the state bring expertise in advanced materials design and research, and this award will allow us to work together to provide advances that will benefit industry.”

“Research innovation and strategic partnership are concepts that are embedded in the fabric of our institution,” said MUSC President David Cole. “We are proud to engage with the other state institutions and with the business community in MADE in SC, a truly novel, forward-thinking initiative. We are excited to continue working together to create jobs, build our knowledge-based economy and lead the way in health innovations for the lives we touch.”

“Advanced materials are crucial to industry in every corner of South Carolina,” State Secretary of Commerce, Bobby Hitt noted. “Growing our talent pipeline, and ramping up our ability to invent new components that will help companies create faster, lighter, more durable products that consumers want is smart business. By building capacity in a network of ten colleges and universities throughout South Carolina, our communities will become even more attractive to businesses looking for a new location with sustainable growth potential. It’s a win-win for our people and for our industrial partners.”

The research and development component of MADE in SC will focus on materials discovery and optimization through a process promoted by the nationwide Materials Genome Initiative that combines computational modeling, data analysis and experimentation in an iterative process that leads to rapid discovery and refinement of novel materials with high potential for use in products and industry. MADE in SC researchers will focus on three types of new materials in high demand: optical, electrochemical and magnetic materials, stimuli-responsive polymers and interactive biomaterials. This effort will be bolstered by recruitment of 17 new research faculty in key roles at USC, Clemson, MUSC, USC Beaufort and SCSU. The grant will also enable investment in new research infrastructure at these institutions that will be available for use by student and faculty researchers from all South Carolina colleges and universities.

The workforce development portion of the MADE in SC mission will involve the development of new undergraduate degree programs at USC Beaufort and the College of Charleston, and expanded curricula at Furman, Winthrop, Claflin and USC. These cutting-edge educational opportunities will create a new pipeline of highly skilled workers from South Carolina’s higher education institutions into industries already thriving, and expected to grow in the Palmetto State. The grant will also provide funding for summer programs to train high school teachers to deliver engaging materials science content to better prepare students for a future in advanced materials and manufacturing.

MADE in SC will bring additional opportunities for South Carolina researchers and businesses. As part of the grant, the South Carolina EPSCoR State Office will provide seed funding though the Phase-0 program to help in attracting Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards to South Carolina businesses in materials-related projects. The State Office will also provide Grants for Exploratory Academic Research (GEAR) and GEAR-Collaborative Research Proposals (GEAR-CRP) funding for faculty at all South Carolina institutions of higher education to support materials manufacturing projects with potentially transformative impacts.

Rounding out the list of co-principal investigators on the MADE in SC grant are Dr. Michael Yost of MUSC and Dr. John Wheeler of Furman.