The National Science Foundation has approved $45 million in grants over the next five years to open two new interdisciplinary research centers in Cambridge—the Center for Integrated Quantum Materials at Harvard and the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines at MIT.
Of the $45 million, up to $20 million will go to the center at Harvard, which will be under the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the MIT-based center will receive up to $25 million.
The Harvard-based center will be designed to enable collaboration between Harvard, MIT, Howard University, and the Museum of Science in Boston. The center will not occupy a physical space at the University, but rather serve as an intellectual group that comprises many top researchers from the collaborating institutions.
The grant for the Harvard-based center starts on October 3 and will include $20 million in the first five years, with the possibility for renewal for an additional five years, according to SEAS professor Robert M. Westervelt, who will lead the venture at Harvard.
Westervelt said the center provides a new opportunity for Harvard to increase its involvement in materials science and electrical engineering.
“Traditionally, Harvard has [been] thinking of being Ivy League and very abstract and high level-abstract ideas, as opposed to MIT, which is probably number one in electrical engineering,” Westervelt said. “The question for SEAS [is] ‘What do we do at Harvard?’ How do we really make an impact on electrical engineering and photonics and the like?”
To this end, Westervelt said, SEAS has recently placed greater emphasis on redefining the boundaries of electrical engineering, conducting research about new and applied physics, and looking into new devices that are based on quantum, rather than classical, mechanics.
Westervelt said that much of the research at the Harvard-based center will deal with surfaces such as graphene that are only one atom thick.
Other materials likely to be investigated at the center include nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamond, which, at room temperature, can store information for milliseconds. Westervelt called Harvard a hub for the study of nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamonds.
Westervelt compared the current excitement surrounding these materials to the impact of silicon in the 1950s.
“People had the idea that silicon was the right material to use back in the mid-1950s, and they worked very hard to make that go,” Westervelt said. “But it wasn’t until 1971 that Intel actually made the first microprocessor [that] you hit that terrific exponential growth.”
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