Duke Materials Initiative Expands to Include Sustainable Materials Research

August 9, 2020 | Elizabeth Witherspoon

DMI adds Civil & Environmental Engineering and Environmental Toxicology faculty who research environmental impacts of materials

Nanosilver

Nanosilver

It’s one thing to discover and design materials to push the boundaries of technology, medicine and consumer products. It’s quite another to design these new materials so that we minimize their effects on the environment. Duke University leads in both endeavors internationally. Now it is strengthening the connection between those two research enterprises for even more meaningful collaboration.

The Duke Materials Initiative has expanded its interdisciplinary community of materials researchers and educators by adding Sustainable Materials to its signature research areas. In doing so, DMI has welcomed eight additional faculty members from the Pratt School of Engineering’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and the Nicholas School of the Environment’s Department of Environmental Toxicology. Two other researchers already affiliated with DMI bring the total number of faculty in this signature area to 10, plus the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and associates working in their nine research centers and labs.

“A growing element of public health engineering is to ensure that the materials we come in contact with, and the products that they enable, are conceived with safety in mind,” said Mark Wiesner, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, an internationally recognized researcher and director of the Center for Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT). Wiesner, an existing DMI faculty member, facilitated connecting his sustainable research colleagues to DMI. 

“The Sustainable Materials effort within DMI provides a conduit for those researchers creating new materials to interact with those of us working to find ways to minimize negative impacts on human health and the environment over the life cycle of production use and disposal."  

—Mark Wiesner

“The Sustainable Materials effort within DMI provides a conduit for those researchers creating new materials to interact with those of us working to find ways to minimize negative impacts on human health and the environment over the life cycle of production use and disposal,” added Wiesner. “Adjustments early in the trajectory of new technologies, such as photovoltaics, energy storage devices, and the materials that enable these technologies, provide the greatest potential for realizing the objective of extracting the maximum environmental benefit with the lowest environmental impact.”

Stefan Zauscher, director of DMI and professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, described the over-arching benefits of the decision to expand and what it signals to peer institutions and prospective students.

“Having access to and collaborating with leading experts in sustainable materials adds a critically important and new dimension to materials science research at Duke as we work to develop high-performance materials that minimize negative impacts on human health and the environment," said Zauscher. "The addition of Sustainable Materials as a signature area is a hallmark and distinctive element for Duke's Materials Initiative, in comparison to similar initiatives at peer institutions across the country,” said Zauscher.

The goal of DMI is to enable the necessary bold, innovative and transformative materials science and engineering advances that are only possible when crossing the boundaries between traditional disciplines. It does this as an initiative by providing strategic leadership and leveraging strengths of Duke that reside in nine different academic departments across Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, the Pratt School of Engineering and the Nicholas School of the Environment. Jointly supported by Trinity, Pratt and the Duke Provost’s Office, DMI’s vision is to foster innovation and sustained excellence in materials science and engineering research and education by creating a culture that transcends departmental and school boundaries. 

“The addition of Sustainable Materials as a signature research area in DMI's materials science portfolio is exciting and emblematic for the growth of the materials research community at Duke,” added Zauscher. “By encompassing researchers from CEE and the Nicholas School of the Environment, DMI now extends beyond the canonical areas of materials science and engineering, which will afford new opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaborations.”