Research Areas of the Materials Science and Engineering Program

The faculty members of the MSE program are committed to world-class research in diversified materials science fields such as nano science, new energy-related materials, composite materials for extreme environments, polymer processing and characterization, and fundamental behavior of soft matter. Some research topics are listed below along with the faculty members involved. The MSE faculty is committed to high-quality classroom teaching of undergraduate and graduate courses that incorporate both basic concepts and breakthrough new materials ideas.

Thin Films and Surface Science

Surface-science research is central to understanding the electronic, chemical and mechanical properties of materials. Materials surfaces can be effectively modified by thin film deposition, plasma surface polymerization and chemical coating. The characterization of surface structures involves x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), Raman scattering, x-ray reflectivity, ellipsometry and secondary ion mass spectroscopy (SIMS), all which are available at the Materials Science and Engineering Program.

Nano Biomedicine

A new field of Nano Biomedicine has recently emerged that involves close collaborations between the researchers from both physical and medical sciences. Using newly developed nanomaterials and nanotechnologies, the challenging issues are being addressed in many biomedical areas such as early cancer diagnosis, hyperthermia therapy, cell targeting, virus detection, and drug/gene delivery.

Ceramic Composite Materials

Fiber-reinforced ceramic matrix composites (CMC) have been identified as the most viable material systems to function reliably in extreme environments especially at high temperatures. Due to their unique advantages in high fracture toughness, damage resistance, and high-temperature properties, some of the major applications of CMCs are found in turbine engines, rocket motors, and aerospace hot structures.

Corrosion & Corrosion Protection

Structural metals such as aluminum and steel exist only because of a thin protective oxide on the surface. Materials faculty are exploring new strategies to make this protective film more effective in a corrosive environment. Powerful new tools, such as x-ray and neutron reflectivity are used to monitor the formation and degradation of protective films. New polymer coatings, developed in the department, have been recently commercialized by industry.

Energy Materials and Devices

Current energy research has focused on a variety of novel energy devices, energy grid systems, and nanomaterials with new designs, struc­tures, and unique properties. The frontier energy research has produced such materials as nano composites for super capacitors and advanced electrochemical energy storage devices; novel pulsed power capacitors for reducing the rate and rapid cycling demand on the batteries of hybrid/electric vehicles, and flexible, highly conductive, but low loss thin films for solar energy cells.

Surface Engineering

Laser shock peening (LSP) is an effective way of strengthening material surfaces. LSP can impart a layer of residual compressive stress on a surface that causes hardening of the material. The process can be well controlled by computer programing, making it a highly industrially viable processing of metals and alloys.


Nanotechnology will be one of the key engines that drive our technological society in the twenty-first century. This rapidly growing area focuses on developing biomedical tools for effective diagnosis and therapeutics and new nanomaterials for energy devices. By structure design at nano-scale, unique material properties are created for new development of industrial applications.

Polymers and Soft Matter

Polymer science is a subfield of materials science concerned with synthesis, processing, and property characterization of plastic materials. Our faculty uses techniques such light scattering, small-angle x-ray scattering and neutron scattering to measure the structure of polymeric materials with the goal of relating structure to properties. Novel processing of nanomaterials is also used to create new composite materials with improved properties. Soft matter is a more generic category that includes, colloids, surfactants, gels, viscous liquids and biological materials. Our faculty, for example, use powerful new interface-modification methods to create the new bio-materials needed for emerging stem-cell therapies.