The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Materials Science Center was one of several innovative programs featured at the fall meeting of the Materials Research Society in Boston, Mass. MRS is a global professional association that facilitates the exchange of information and encourages collaboration across various fields of science affecting materials.

UW-Eau Claire students Jason Leicht, a senior physics major from Little Chute, and Caramon Ives, a senior materials science major from Eau Claire, attended the conference to accept a certificate recognizing the formation of the UW-Eau Claire University Chapter of the Materials Research Society. The university introduced the materials science major in 2009.

State-of-the-art instrumentation, student and faculty research collaborations and innovative industry partnerships have been the hallmark of the Materials Science Center since it opened in 2004. The center has been invaluable to small businesses that otherwise would not have the resources and access to the kind of instrumentation needed to bring solutions, products and processes to the market quickly and effectively.

“The university has a lot of research tools and resources we don’t have as a small company, so having access to the expertise and students who are trained on the equipment is important to us,” said Brock Lundgren, chief technology officer for Fiberstar Bio-Ingredient Technologies Inc. in Eau Claire. “Our relationship with the Materials Science Center has been instrumental in helping us get started.”

Analytical scientists from UW-Eau Claire departments, including physics and astronomy, chemistry, geology and biology are tackling issues of the day through the study of matter as well as investigations into the way materials can be applied to create new devices and structures of utility.

Dr. Elizabeth Glogowski, an assistant professor in the Materials Science program, conducts research on polymers to determine properties that might be controlled to create new polymers with new applications.

“For example, our polymers could possibly encapsulate a cancer drug,” Glogowski said. “In the body, the properties are all assembled, but they could get to a specific tumor and open up to treat the tumor.”

According to Glogowski, without the students, much of this work would not be possible. Students receive specialized training and learn research methods. They also benefit from working with university scientists and industry partners. Practical experience in the lab gives students firsthand knowledge of current, relevant problems in the field and innovations they won’t find in their textbooks.

Dr. Douglas Dunham, director of the Materials Science Center, said the successful outreach to industry depends on the combination of faculty expertise and motivated students who accept the challenge of exploring scientific solutions, and such collaboration results in graduates who are prepared to make contributions when they complete their degree.

“If we want functioning scientists after they graduate, students need to be doing hands-on research while they are here.”