Glass Industry

NSF Looking To Keep Glass A High-Tech Engineering Material

The National Science Foundation is on the lookout for investigators who can see beyond today’s frontiers of knowledge and will take a stab at the moving frontiers that lie beyond our current horizon, NSF director Arden L. Bement, Jr., told a group of top international glass scientists and high-level glass industry representatives gathered in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

The International Materials Institute for New Functionality in Glass (IMI-NFG) was established by the NSF in 2004 to promote wide ranging collaborations between U.S. glass researchers and their counterparts in business and academia worldwide. These partnerships are meant to ensure that glass, which has contributed immeasurably to modern technology, will remain a high-tech material of choice in the 21st century.

This 1st International Workshop on Scientific Challenges of New Functionalities in Glass focused on two technical advances of importance to industry: glass for electronic applications and Nanostructured glasses. From shrinking electronic components to hybrid electric vehicles and all-solid-state lithium batteries, glass will be the material of choice said researchers from Penn State University in the U.S. and Osaka Prefecture University in Japan. George Sakoske of Ferro Corporation highlighted the importance of glass in energy conservation when he pointed out that more energy is lost in the U.S. through the windows of buildings than is pumped through the Alaskan pipeline.

An Industry Leaders’ Panel drawn from the world’s largest international glass manufacturers mapped out a direction for research in glass science and technology that could lead to significant applications in the future. High-level representatives from PPG Industries, USA; Saint-Gobain, France; Schott, Germany; Asahi Glass, Japan, Corning, USA; and Nippon Electric Glass, Japan gathered for the first time under the banner of the International Materials Institute for New Functionalities in Glass, promoting the IMI mission of international collaboration.

Bement's talk focused on transformative research, which typically cuts across many disciplines and leads to disruptive technologies that can transform an entire industry or market. He cited the Internet as one such potentially disruptive technology, and nanotechnology as a second obvious transformative technology. In order for the U.S. to transition into one of the new, fast-paced societies that are powering the world economy, the NSF sponsors high-risk, long-term research through Centers, such as the IMI-NFG. These centers have become fertile grounds for recruiting well-trained students into industry, Bement explained.

In a lively post-talk question and answer session, the NSF director, himself a materials scientist, provided insights into the thought processes that go into NSF funding. "Budget drives research," Bement stated. “All research that we support has the potential to be transformative.” Fresh ideas and taking risks are encouraged; however, in the current funding climate, a lot of good ideas are being left unfunded, he acknowledged. The ratio of proposals that rank from good to excellent that NSF has to decline for lack of funding has increased from 1 in 3 ten years ago to 3 in 5. On the up side, NSF is able to leverage its funding through cooperation with other federal agencies in areas such as infectious diseases and plant genomic research, and especially through joint funding for instrumentation.

The momentum is toward ever greater collaboration, Bement suggested, and this Workshop, with attendees from universities around the world and international companies, is another step in that direction. Collaboration, especially among competitors, may seem paradoxical, he said, but in fact collaboration drives innovation by harnessing external knowledge and harnessing co-innovation. The International Materials Institutes, through their international exchange programs, are developing a new generation of scientists and engineers who will feel at home in the global economy.

Support for the IMI-NFG workshop was provided by the National Science Foundation and Lehigh University, with logistical support provided by Corning Inc. through its Newry Corp. The NSF funds six International Materials Institutes for purposes of training internationally competitive materials scientists and engineers, and supporting a global materials network. The IMI-NFG is a collaboration between Lehigh University and Penn State University.

Source: Azom