FIU is one of eight U.S. universities that NSF is investing in to strengthen partnerships and collaboration between minority-serving institutions and leading research facilities

The National Science Foundation has awarded FIU nearly $4 million to increase diversity and promote greater inclusion of underrepresented minority groups and women in cutting-edge materials research, education and professions.

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) grant was awarded to Daniela Radu, associate professor of materials science and engineering at FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing. Radu also is a Diversity Mentor Professor at FIU who strongly advocates for equality and inclusion in STEM. FIU is one of eight collaborative research teams across the U.S. to earn the funding.

Materials engineering is central to the growth, prosperity, security, and quality of life of people, as it is new materials that open the door to new technologies, whether they are in civil, chemical, construction, nuclear, aeronautical, agricultural, mechanical, biomedical or electrical engineering. The award will establish the NSF PREM Center for Innovations in Materials, Processes, and Applications for Quantum Technologies (NSF PREM IMPAQT) at FIU, through which faculty researchers will mentor and train more than 80 minority engineering students.

FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing is currently ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in awarding bachelor’s degrees to Hispanic students and No. 6 in awarding bachelor’s degrees to African Americans, according to the American Society for Engineering Association (ASEE).

“We continue to see greater demands for innovation in the fields of quantum science and technology, which can greatly benefit from the cultivation of a diverse, highly-qualified STEM workforce,” Radu said. “With almost 80 percent of its student body composed of minority students, FIU is uniquely positioned to make significant contributions in this research area and produce impactful advancements to everyday technologies people have come to depend on.”

Through the NSF PREM IMPAQT center, a diverse team of research students will collaborate with students from seven other minority-serving institutions. Together, they will explore the fundamental and practical aspects of materials with atomic thickness, also known as two-dimensional (2D) materials. The students will engage in highly innovative materials research, which seeks advancements in sensor technology, secure communication, quantum computing and advanced phenomena simulation.

“The benefits of diversity in education, especially higher education, stretch far and wide — affecting students’ academic and social experiences, as well as having a direct impact on the research they do and the innovative engineering solutions they cultivate,” said John L. Volakis, dean of FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing. “NSF is helping our students expand their horizons, while offering FIU institutional support that will increase recruitment, retention and degree-attainment by underrepresented groups.”

Since its start in 2004, PREM has successfully diversified faculty research and improved the likelihood that underrepresented students and students from underserved communities pursued and completed a doctorate in materials research. It also has trained more than 125 postdoctoral researchers and has helped more than 1,500 students – most from underrepresented minority groups – graduate with a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree. PREM’s research has produced a wide range of results and new discoveries, from new materials for quantum devices and electronics, to live-cell imaging, integrating research and education to advance knowledge in materials science-related fields.  

“A focus on diversity of students, faculty, and partners—paired with the revitalization of under-resourced research—is the foundation of PREM and has been the source of many successful outcomes,” said Debasis Majumdar, director of the NSF PREM program. “It expands national innovation capacity and a much needed, highly trained and diverse workforce, propelling U.S. leadership in STEM fields.”