(Detroit Free Press)- A University of Michigan professor has received a $3-million, 5-year research grant to find technology that might one day, well, transform life as we know it.
No pressure, laughs U-M's Sharon Glotzer.
"Go change the world," she said, explaining the grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.
A professor of chemical engineering and materials science and engineering, Glotzer recently was named one of six 2009 National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellows. Each receives up to $3 million over the five years for research. And unlike most research grants, this one allows for plenty of room to explore.
"We're saying: 'What problem do you find incredibly exciting?' " said William Rees, Jr., deputy undersecretary of defense for laboratories and sciences.
Chosen from a field of hundreds of nominations, the six fellows established themselves as leading scientists within areas such as sensors, surveillance, information security, energy independence and force protection.
For her part, Glotzer oversees more than a dozen researchers in computational nanoscience and simulation of soft matter, self-assembly and materials design.
It's work that uses computer-generated building blocks as small as 1/10,000 of a human hair to build new materials with comic-book superhero qualities.
"What we're really trying to do is design shape-shifting materials," she said.
Imagine clothing that adjusts to temperature to protect the wearer or paints and coatings that toggle between reflective and non-reflective.
It might seem far-reaching, but then again, some of today's most ubiquitous technology began decades ago with such government-funded research, Rees said.
"We don't know what discoveries they're going to make," Rees said.
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By Robin Erb, Detroit Free Press Education Writer