$4.9M CREST grant awarded to FAMU-FSU researchers promoting novel materials, devices and Additive Manufacturing


Professors Ramakrishnan, Dickens and Sachdeva (left to right) in front of the high-resolution 3D printer that will be used to manufacture novel materials and devices. (P Radulovich/FAMU-FSU Engineering)

Professors at Florida A&M University (FAMU) and the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering have garnered a prestigious Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) grant from the National Science Foundation to support the Center for Complex Materials Design for Multidimensional Additive Processing (also known as the CoManD Center).

The $4,999,388 grant will be distributed over a five-year period and will assist researchers at the University in promoting advancements in manufacturing at the micrometer scale. These developments will be important to a number of applications such as in vitro 3D tumor models for biological applications, electromagnetic radiation shielding materials for aerospace applications (i.e. for use at NASA), and nanostructured photovoltaic devices for energy applications.

The developed technology and the devices that will be built as a result of the grant will also result in novel methods of drug delivery to treat cancer. Additional expected outcomes include better aircraft/space shuttle wings (that will not be affected by radiation) and highly portable electronic devices with longer lasting batteries (which will aid several industries, including the Department of Defense). The key focus of many of these technologies is to pattern multiple materials in three dimensions, which will be made possible with the use of a state-of-the-art, high-precision 3D printer.

"This grant will give us a chance to make a bigger footprint in materials and biological research at FAMU and to create a pipeline of new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals to address the challenges of the future," said the center’s director Subramanian Ramakrishnan, Ph.D., an associate professor of chemical and biomedical engineering in the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

According to Ramakrishnan, the grant’s principal investigator, the center will be comprised of an interdisciplinary team of faculty from various academic departments at FAMU, including biological and agricultural systems engineering, chemistry, pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences and physics, as well as from the FAMU-FSU chemical and biomedical engineering and industrial engineering departments. The center is home to three different sub-projects and an educational program.

Ramakrishnan will direct the center’s first sub project, which focuses on developing nanostructured lightweight materials for shielding and sensing applications in association with FSU's National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. FAMU-FSU College of Engineering Industrial Engineering Assistant Professor Tarik Dickens, Ph.D., will direct the center's second sub-project, which will consist of developing materials/devices for energy applications in association with the High-Performance Materials Institute. FAMU Pharmaceutics Professor Mandip Singh Sachdeva, Ph.D., will direct the center's third sub-project, which includes developing materials/devices for biological applications such as a 3D-printed tumor biosystem on a chip.

Ramakrishnan said the aim is to integrate research and strong educational outcomes to produce novel materials and devices for different applications using additive processing while at the same time gaining a fundamental understanding of process manufacturing.

"The uniqueness of this award is the synergy between universities, national labs and defense labs," he explained. "This award is a new milestone for FAMU. It will help establish FAMU as a pioneer in additive manufacturing research in the Southeast and garner attention from regional industries. It creates strong collaborations between the engineering, pharmaceutical sciences, agriculture, and science and technology colleges and schools at FAMU. This project also opens up avenues for students and faculty to work with some of the top scientists in the world at our collaborator institutions like MIT and Harvard."

Co-principal investigators and faculty involved in the center’s diverse projects include FAMU professors Nelly Mateeva, Ph.D.(chemistry), Satyanrayanan Dev, Ph.D. (biological systems engineering), Daniel Hallinan, Ph.D. (FAMU-FSU chemical engineering), Charles Weatherford, Ph.D. (physics), and Komalavalli Thirunavukuarasu, Ph.D. (physics). Project collaborators include Florida State University, Harvard University, MIT, Army Research Labs and Air Force Research Labs.

In addition to research, the grant will help support undergraduate courses based on the fundamentals of self-assembly, nanoparticle synthesis and characterization, additive manufacturing, nanomaterials in biology, and nanoparticles in medicine, which will be developed and offered to FAMU students. Also, a laboratory course in materials will be offered to graduate and undergraduate students involved in materials research. The center will work to produce 15 doctorate students, directly impact 40 undergraduates and influence 100 graduate students and 300 additional undergraduates through collaborations and coursework.

CREST supports the enhancement of research capabilities of minority-serving institutions through the establishment of centers that effectively integrate education and research. It also promotes the development of new knowledge, enhancements of the research productivity of individual faculty, and an expanded presence of students historically underrepresented in pharmaceutical sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.