The Materials Innovation Platform Program was launched in 2016 to accelerate discovery of advanced materials.
In 2015, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Materials Research (DMR) launched the Materials Innovation Platforms or MIP program with a goal of accelerating advances in materials research. The MIP program, created as part of the Materials Genome Initiative, currently has four projects or platforms—each with state-of-the-art experimental and computation tools and technologies. What makes this program truly unique is that all these tools and technologies along with the know-how, data, and research samples are open to the community—creating an unparalleled environment for strong scientific research.
“The Materials Innovation Platform program serves as a North Star program that promotes the Materials Genome Initiative in many ways,” says Sean Jones, Assistant Director of NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate. “It supports research infrastructure, provides training of users throughout the country, and creates communities of practitioners that share knowledge and advance common goals leading to faster development and deployment of new technologies.”
The inaugural class of two MIPs was established in 2016. They are 2-Dimensional Crystal Consortium (2DCC-MIP) at Pennsylvania State University and Platform for the Accelerated Realization, Analysis, and Discovery of Interface Materials (PARADIM) at Cornell University and Johns Hopkins University. Both focus on crystalline materials in bulk and thin-film forms. As its name suggests, 2DCC-MIP encompasses research into the growth, properties, and applications of two-dimensional layered chalcogenide crystals and related 2D materials. PARADIM provides a platform for creation and discovery of electronic materials with an emphasis on new interface quantum materials. Both were successfully renewed in 2021.
The second MIP competition, focused on innovative research at the convergence of biology and materials science, led to two additional MIPs funded in 2020. The BioPolymers, Automated Cellular Infrastructure, Flow, and Integrated Chemistry Materials Innovation Platform (BioPACIFIC MIP) at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of California at Los Angeles aims at scalable production of bio-derived building blocks and polymers from yeast, fungi, and bacteria, while GlycoMIP, with facilities located at Virginia Tech and the University of Georgia, focuses on automating the synthesis of rationally designed glycomaterials—materials containing complex chains of sugars called glycans.
MIPs house some of the most unique instruments, whether it’s the first automated glycan synthesizer in the United States or a Living Biofoundry system that accelerates the discovery and scale-up production of bio-derived building blocks and biopolymers through automated synthetic biology and microbial engineering.
They also have several molecular beam epitaxy systems, enabling users to grow thin films and heterostructures made of atoms chosen from elements in almost all of the columns in the periodic table (other than halogens and noble gases). Chemical vapor deposition produces uniform chalcogenide films across two-inch-diameter wafers, enabling scientists and engineers to fabricate and study prototype devices for future electronics. There’s also the world's highest-resolution electron microscope that is so precise that the only blurring one might see while using it to look at the tiniest atoms is from the thermal bouncing of the atoms themselves, as well as a data management system that’s custom designed to capture “recipes” used for materials synthesis and data from in-situ and post-growth characterization, including metadata, for thousands of samples.
When it comes to computational tools, MIPs use density functional theory and mismatched interface theory to predict novel electronic properties; they rely on reactive force field codes to simulate materials growth processes used to identify new synthetic targets and optimize growth conditions. What’s more, an autonomous user-friendly virtual interface enables both experts and beginners to generate 3D structures of oligo- and polysaccharides, and to predict the impact of chemical modifications on the 3D shapes and properties of these molecules. And, in an effort to enhance data sharing and development, a lot of this research is available online and easily accessible.
MIPs are tasked with building and nurturing an open scientific ecosystem comprised of in-house researchers, users, and other scientists to realize this vision. As part of that goal, MIPs are required to devote at least 50 percent of an instrument’s operational time to external users. Scientists across the country can submit a user proposal and join the team. (While individual user proposals are not required to follow the MGI approach, in-house research projects and the overall portfolio of user proposals within the MIP follow the guiding principles of the MGI strategic plan. MIPs’ in-house scientists welcome informal discussions before user proposal submissions.)
A MIP also differs from a traditional user facility because it encourages users to collaborate and become part of a community of practitioners rather than simply utilize the available resources for the purposes of independent research. In fact, many users have established formal collaborations through the MIPs because they found it beneficial to do so. Several dozens of assistant professors have jumpstarted their scientific careers, using MIP resources before their own research laboratories are completed or before they have obtained Federal research funding.
“The MIP program is a working model for the types of integrated materials platforms needed to unify the Materials Innovation Infrastructure—namely, shared experimental and computational tools together with the resulting data generated—as envisioned in the new MGI strategic plan,” says Linda Sapochak, NSF Division Director for Materials Research and co-chair of the National Science and Technology Council Sub-Committee for the MGI. “These platforms are actively helping to increase knowledge-sharing across the materials enterprise and to move discovery of materials to deployment at an accelerated pace.”
In addition to these opportunities, MIPs offer summer schools as well as other activities such as webinars, workshops, and virtual townhall meetings. (Most activities are recorded and available online on individual MIP websites.) In addition, 2DCC-MIP offers opportunities for graduate students, postdocs, and junior faculty to visit Pennsylvania State University for several months at a time as an opportunity to develop in-depth skills and expertise. Data associated with PARADIM papers over the last few years are now available online providing great resources for teaching and data mining. Additional databases will be released from all MIPs.
Learn more about each MIP on our Platforms Page; check out tools, news, and events; and follow MIPs on social media (Twitter handles: @2DCCMIP, @PARADIMResearch, @BioPACIFICMIP, @GlycoMip). If you would like to contact the NSF Program Directors regarding the MIP program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
NSF Division Director for Materials Research
National Science Foundation
Division of Materials Research
2415 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22314