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UT awarded National Science Foundation Materials Research Science and Engineering Center

June 26, 2023

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has received a prestigious Materials Research Science and Engineering Center from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to spark discoveries that will lead to new industries in clean energy, computing and national security.

The new Center for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing (CAMM) at UT Knoxville will receive $18 million in NSF funding to develop sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) and computational tools and deploy them in the design and synthesis of next-generation materials in two areas: quantum materials and materials for extreme environments. CAMM researchers will characterize these revolutionary materials using state-of-the-art instruments at UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

“We have a deep bench of expertise in quantum materials and materials for extremes,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “This prestigious NSF award recognizes the ingenuity of our faculty, staff and student researchers and makes clear that UT Knoxville, and the state of Tennessee, is a global leader in these areas.”

Next-generation materials and manufacturing are central to meeting the future needs of society, including ensuring the widespread availability of sustainable energy sources, supporting advances in computing and communications, enabling a global transition to a circular economy and promising a safer and more secure future for people around the world.


Professor of Physics and Materials Science Alan Tennant will direct the center. Professor of Materials Science Claudia Rawn will serve as deputy director and as director of education and diversity. Department Head of Physics and Astronomy Adrian Del Maestro will lead the quantum materials initiative and UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Nuclear Materials Steve Zinkle will lead the materials for extreme environments research initiative.

“CAMM is a model for interdisciplinary research and innovation,” said Tennant. “We are leveraging all the capabilities we have to advance the materials frontier while also developing our nation’s future leaders in these areas. And by working with companies like Lockheed Martin, Volkswagen and Eastman, and launching new high-tech start-ups like SkyNano that will co-locate with us here in Knoxville, we are ensuring that our innovations create economic opportunities for Tennesseans.”

CAMM will engage undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral trainees and junior faculty who will become tomorrow’s university and industry leaders.

Untangling the complexity of quantum materials

Much is still unknown about quantum materials, but the acceleration of research pairing AI with theory and application is essential to ensure continued U.S. leadership in the global economy. Technology spaces that will be impacted range from energy harvesting and low-power electronics to progressing quantum computing and the development of sensors with unprecedented sensitivity.

The CAMM team will advance the pace and scope of quantum materials discovery by using AI and experimental data to learn and refine models for quantum materials, uncover the guiding principles responsible for desired materials functionality and provide AI capabilities for experiment steering and analysis for multibillion dollar facilities used by the national science and engineering communities.

“Our goal is the rational design of materials, meaning, ‘can we design materials for a specific new technology or task?’” said Del Maestro. “One of the things that we’re thinking about, for example, is post-silicon technology. How can we harness the power of quantum mechanics to do new things, to do applications that just aren’t possible via classical technologies?”

The team will share the technologies and know-how developed with the national materials science and engineering community through an AI computational user facility and other mechanisms.

Developing materials for the harshest environments

Post-Doctoral Researcher Amine Benkechkache and student Lance Drouet conduct research in a class 100 clean room at the Mirco-Processing Research Facility housed within UT’s new Institute for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing located at Cherokee Farm

Creating safe nuclear reactors for sustainable clean energy production and advanced propulsion technologies such as hypersonic flight requires materials that can reliably maintain structural stability and not break down.

“We are seeking a leap forward in high-performance materials by merging atomistic calculations, high-throughput thin film synthesis and exposures to extreme pressures, temperatures and particle radiation to rapidly screen promising compositions of complex concentrated alloys and ceramics.” said Zinkle. “Applications could range from the next-generation of refractory complex concentrated alloys with environmental barrier coatings for hypersonic transport to damage-resistant high temperature materials for proposed fusion and Generation-IV fission reactors.”

CAMM researchers will design, fabricate and test new complex metallic alloys and ceramic materials that could replace today’s steel and nickel-based alloys.

The team will use machine learning and AI to accelerate the discovery of materials behavior, ultimately enabling new materials and design principles for extreme environments as well as models for use by the scientific community.

A place-based approach

UT’s Institute for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing

CAMM’s mission is supported by a region steeped in deep technology and expertise. Facilities include world-class capabilities in materials synthesis and characterization at UT’s Institute for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Spallation Neutron Source — the most powerful neutron source in the world — and Frontier, the world’s first exascale supercomputer, at ORNL.

UT Knoxville and ORNL researchers will work together through the UT–Oak Ridge Innovation Institute to enhance the position of U.S. researchers as global leaders.

“We are primed to spark innovation, transform industries and open new frontiers of knowledge,” said Del Maestro. “Our partnerships with ORNL, industry leaders and academic institutions across the nation are testament to the collaborative spirit that is intrinsic to scientific discovery. The next era of materials science is not only about what we will discover but about how we come together to make these discoveries in partnership with the private sector.”

CAMM was announced live by NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan during a daylong visit to UT on June 26 that focused on a recent NSF Regional Innovation Engine development award, TEAM TN, given to UT and its partners to establish Tennessee as a global leader in the $2 trillion transportation mobility economy.

“Since the 1970s, NSF’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers have yielded countless breakthroughs, from shape-morphing materials to plastics that conduct electricity,” said NSF Assistant Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences Sean L. Jones. “Our current centers continue that proud tradition and provide the essential catalyst — born in the materials lab — which ignites American innovations that propel our country’s scientific and economic leadership.”


Christie Kennedy, 865-974-8674,