Highlights of the MRS Fall Meeting 2016, Boston

by | Dec 21, 2016

Society is at a crossroads with many topics such as sustainability, energy, medicine, and healthcare. Material science offers many solutions to these problems.

The 2016 Fall Meeting of the Materials Research Society (MRS) took place in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, from November 27 – December 2. This year’s conference featured 55 technical symposia, eight tutorials, four poster sessions, and more than 240 exhibitors.

The symposia were grouped into nine topic clusters, each covering a variety of material science disciplines. The topics clusters were titled: “Broader Impact,” “Biomaterials and Soft Materials,” “Electrochemistry,” “Electronics, Magnetics, and Photonics,” “Energy and Sustainability,” “Mechanical Behavior and Failure Mechanisms of Materials,” “Nanomaterials,” “Processing and Manufacturing,” and “Theory, Characterization, and Modeling.” A special symposium, titled “Frontiers of Materials Research,” consisted of four talks on various interdisciplinary topics within the field of material science.

Either by an oral presentation or poster presentation, researchers and students highlighted their latest results and gave their input on the newest trends in their fields. Though the time to ask each presenter questions on his/her talk was limited to a few minutes per talk, the conference had many breaks – including free coffee – in which discussions could take place to further scientific inquiry, networking, and future collaborations.

Society is at a crossroads with many topics such as sustainability, energy, medicine, and healthcare. These issues present a hurdle that we are responsible for overcoming, and material science offers many solutions to these problems. It is important that researchers and scholars have a way to disseminate their research and help solve these issues before they become too overbearing.

The ability to produce renewable, sustainable energy is becoming more important every day. In order to improve efficiency for solar cells, new materials are tested every day. But, it is not only the efficiency that is important, the materials themselves–and how they are produced–play a significant role in the future of solar technologies. In the “Structure-Property Relationships of Organic Semiconductors” Symposium, Mario Leclerc, from the Universite Laval in Quebec, Canada, gave a talk on green chemistry for plastic electronics. He spoke about creating new materials for solar energy applications, which are not hazardous to the environment. These types of materials will play a significant role in the sustainability and energy solutions going forward.

A topic that attracted much attention this year’s conference is biomaterials and their applications. The demand for biomaterial applications in medicine has become great due to the interesting and unique properties these materials possess over the traditional materials used in the past. David Kaplan, from Tufts University, gave a talk on the topics of silk biomaterials and their applications in soft tissue regeneration in the “Biomaterials for Regenerative Medicine” symposium. He explained the importance of silk in regenerative medicine because silk is nature’s equivalent of a biomaterial. The properties of silk make it ideal for regenerative medicine because it can withstand high temperatures and high pressures while maintaining its desired characteristics. Another important quality of silk is that the elasticity can be tuned, which makes it useful for many different applications in tissue engineering. Kaplan adds that the next step in this field is to develop a non-invasive delivery technique in order to minimize any complications that may arise during a surgical procedure.

Looking forward to the future of material science one can imagine great possibilities in medicine. At this year’s conference there was a special symposium dedicated to the breakthroughs and next generation of materials. Symposium X, titled “Frontiers of Materials Research” consisted of four talks on pushing the limits of research and where material science is headed in the future. Bin Liu, from the National University of Singapore, gave a presentation titled “Aggregation-Induced Emission—Materials and Biomedical Applications.” Throughout the talk she highlighted the many applications of luminescent biomaterials and how they are preferred to conventional organic luminescent and inorganic nanoparticles. Using these nanoparticles, one can monitor cell death rates, drug delivery and activation, and blood flow. Using these techniques we will be able to manufacture drugs on a case by case basis, customizing each one to individual people. This type of application can lead to major advancements in health care and make diagnosis and treatment of medical issues both faster and safer.

The MRS Fall Meeting not only had a scientific program, but was complemented by numerous awards given out to graduates students, postdoctoral researchers, and researchers at an award ceremony that took place on the evening of Wednesday November 30th.

The MRS Graduate Student Awards were given out to thirty graduate students whose academic achievements and current materials research display a high level of excellence and distinction. However, there was a special award, the Arthur Nowick Graduate student Award, presented to one graduate student for promise as a future teacher and mentor. This year’s recipient was Claire McLellan of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The MRS Postdoctoral Award recognizes postdoctoral researchers who show promise in scientific research, leadership, advocacy, outreach, or teaching. This year the award was given to two postdoctoral researchers–Qi Li, from Pennsylvania State University, for “advancing the field of polymer nanocomposites for electrical storage and conversion” and Yongming Sun, from Stanford University, for “advancing the development of high-capacity battery materials.”

The MRS Materials Theory Award is given out in recognition of exceptional advances to the understanding of the structure and behavior of materials by materials theory. The 2016 recipient was Gerbrand Ceder, from the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, for “seminal contributions to the emerging field of computationally guided materials for exploiting high-throughput computation and promoting the development of open databases to ensure widespread use.” His award talk was titled “The Prediction of Stable and Metastable Compounds.”

Every year the MRS recognizes an outstanding recent discovery or advancement that impacts the progress of the field of materials with the MRS Medal. Robert Cava, from Princeton University, was awarded this year’s MRS Medal for “pioneering contributions in the discovery of new classes of 3D topological insulators.” He gave an award talk titled “A Materials Perspective on Topological Insulators and Related Electronic Materials.”

The MRS recognizes the career contribution of a scientist to the understanding of the science of materials through experimental and/or theoretical research by awarding the David Turnbull Lectureship Award. This year the award went to James Dr Yoreo, from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, for “discoveries that have shaped our understanding of crystallization science.” He gave an award talk titled “A Holistic View of Nucleation and Self-assembly.”

The Von Hippel Award, the highest award handed out by the MRS, is awarded for an individual in recognition of the recipient’s contribution to interdisciplinary research on materials. The 2016 award was given to Charles M. Lieber, from Harvard University, for “pioneering contributions to nanoscience, defining the foundations of rational synthesis of nanoscale wires, characterization of their fundamental physical properties, and the development of applications of these materials in chemistry, biology, and medicine. He gave his award talk titled “Nanowires, Nanoelectronics, and Revolutionary Tools for Brain Science,” focusing on nanowires and how they relate to nanoelectronics and nano-bioelectronics. The main problem with application in or on the human body is translating from 2D to 3D electronics. Charles M. Lieber touched on the challenges in manufacturing devices in a way to not inhibit the person once connected and says the future in this field is finding a way to integrate seamlessly with the human brain and other tissues in the body.

This year’s MRS Fall Meeting was yet another example of the significance of the research in all fields of material science. The research presented at the MRS lays the foundation for the next generation of materials. The importance for both the commercialization and application of new technologies is needed in order to answer many of society’s most pressing issues–including energy, sustainability, and health care. We can therefore already look forward to the next instalment of the MRS Fall Meeting in Boston in December 2017 and to the forthcoming MRS Spring Meeting in Phoenix in April 2017.

Article contributed by Tom Scrace and Martin Preuss.