2024 Seed Grants

Accepting applications through December 4, 2023

The Materials Research Institute (MRI) has identified a set of interdisciplinary research themes that meet our strategic goals and have the potential for impactful research and outreach.

We are asking the research community to develop high-risk, high-impact, transformative ideas that will enable Penn State researchers to catalyze the development of new and interdisciplinary large team initiatives, to obtain preliminary data that can be used to pursue larger externally-funded grants, to support faculty members who are engaging colleagues outside their own unit and particularly across institutes, and to encourage early-career faculty members to establish new research collaborations. There is particular interest in seeding collaborations between researchers affiliated with the Materials Research Institute and other interdisciplinary institutes. It is recognized that some efforts may be focused on developing and strengthening new teams and not immediately resulting in external proposals; in such cases, smaller awards will be considered to support the development and enhancement of collaborative teams and expertise. This year’s topic areas are:

  1. Resilience in energy storage systems through innovations in materials design, reuse, and recycling 
  2. Advancing digital health through materials research for implantable and wearable sensors and devices
  3. Harnessing myco- and bio-derived materials for disruptive applications in health, life, agriculture and medicine
  4. Accelerating materials discovery through AI and virtualization
  5. Pursuing humanitarian advancements using materials research and engineering
  6. Investigating living multifunctional materials research at the convergence of materials science, materials engineering, biology, and advanced manufacturing
  7. Other emerging interdisciplinary topics that center materials as the key fundamental element will be considered

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Resilience in Energy Storage Systems through Innovations in Materials Design, Reuse, and Recycling

Energy storage systems that are charged from renewable sources can promote sustainable development and a transition towards cleaner energy by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released from fossil fuel combustion. Such systems, particularly batteries, are vital for leveraging the full potential of renewable energies, however, the materials for these storage systems are sourced through mining and processing activities, which carry environmental and societal implications. To optimize the environmental benefits of energy storage, there is a pressing need for innovations in materials, along with their sourcing considerations, their reuse and recycling. The objective of this RFP is to invite proposals that innovate in the materials space while critically assessing the climate and societal impacts of both current and emerging energy storage technologies. These considerations include examining the materials, from their extraction and use to their potential for recycling and reuse, and developing innovative materials and methodologies that can mitigate environmental and societal impacts. Additionally, proposals should address the societal inequities stemming from the increased demand for minerals in specific extractive locations. There is particular interest in seeding collaborations between researchers affiliated with the Materials Research Institute and other interdisciplinary institutes, such as the Institute for Energy and the Environment and the Social Science Research Institute.

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Advancing Digital Health Through Materials Research for Implantable and Wearable Sensors and Devices

This thrust is aimed at collaborations that broadly address the research challenges and opportunities in the development and wide use of wearable and/or implantable technology and sensors in health-relevant processes and outcomes, including those relevant for normative and disease states. The use of wearables/implantables could include but is not limited to, monitoring, diagnosing, and/or influencing ongoing biological, behavioral, and/or social states. Researchers can propose new approaches or leverage already developed technologies and approaches. Proposed ideas should center materials design and innovations as the enabling element. There is particular interest in seeding collaborations between researchers affiliated with the Materials Research Institute, other interdisciplinary institutes, the Center for Biodevices, the Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing and the College of Medicine.

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Harnessing Myco- and Bio-Derived Materials for Disruptive Applications in Health, Life, Agriculture and Medicine

The realm of naturally occurring materials and bio-derived materials offers expansive possibilities, much of which remains yet to be fully realized. As we edge towards a sustainable future, these materials present innovative opportunities, especially in health, biomedical, food, architectural and technological applications. In this topic, we invite interdisciplinary and innovative research proposals that delve into the synthesis (or production), processing, characterization, applications, potentials, and challenges of using naturally occurring materials and bio-materials in diverse sectors. The aim is to understand their groundbreaking utilities, to integrate their unique properties into practical, sustainable solutions, and to explore innovative applications beyond traditional uses. There is particular interest in investigating the collaborative potential across interdisciplinary fields, seeding collaborations between researchers affiliated with the Materials Research Institute, The Huck Institutes for the life Sciences, and the College of Medicine.

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Accelerating Materials Discovery through AI and Virtualization

New computing technologies promise to shorten the time required to develop new materials.  MRI is interested in ideas that investigate the promise, potential, challenges and opportunities offered by virtualization of experimental infrastructure and AI-powered experimentation and data analysis.  This topic is aimed at seeding collaborations that focus on how these technologies: AI-guided computational exploration of large parameter spaces, AI-guided experimentation, and virtualization, can be used to dramatically accelerate the discovery, design and development of new materials. Also of interest are projects in data science that examine large materials data sets, such as images, molecular structures, spectra, etc., and strategies to integrate datasets from different techniques, or approaches aimed at addressing methodological challenges, e.g., incorporating physics into data-driven modeling. There is particular interest in seeding collaborations between researchers affiliated with the Materials Research Institute and The Institute for Computational and Data Sciences. Seed grant proposals that center in immersive technologies and experiences are of particular interest for a Center for Immersive Experiences (CIE) and MRI co-funded opportunity.

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Pursuing Humanitarian Advancements Using Materials Research and Engineering

MRI has a legacy of investing in materials research initiatives that yield profound benefits for society, including projects that substantially enhance the quality of life, particularly in the realms of physical and cognitive disabilities, healthcare, food security, housing, and access to clean water. This commitment extends to partnering with, including and benefiting underserved populations on both a domestic and global scale. We are seeking proposals for innovative projects in humanitarian materials that harness the power of materials science, combined with comprehensive characterization, robust outreach efforts, and a deep commitment to social betterment. Successful applications should establish clear connections to underserved communities and have a demonstrated record of meaningful partnerships and successful translation of research into tangible, positive outcomes. (Here, proposal budgets are limited to $10K).

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Living Multifunctional Materials Research at the Convergence of Materials Science, Materials Engineering, Biology, and Advanced Manufacturing

This topic area focuses on the development of sustainable materials that are biological or inspired by biological principles. This area will fund collaborations between researchers at Penn State University and the University of Freiburg exploring bold and intellectually brave research that could make a significant difference for society at large. Topics in living multifunctional materials related to self-assembly, biomimicry, adaptability, multifunctionality, self-powering, self-healing, multi-materials manufacturing, and responsive materials for adaptive architecture are of great interest. This topic is in partnership with the Convergence Center for Living Multifunctional Material Systems (LiMC2) LiMC2.


LiMC2 grants in the area of Living and Multifunctional Materials will have funds of $50,000 for the Penn State portion and require collaborators at the University of Freiburg. The funding for the University of Freiburg team will be covered by livMatS. Applications are open to 1) All Penn State University full time faculty members, and 2) all University of Freiburg full time faculty. The minimum number of investigators at both University of Freiburg and Penn State University is one each.  

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