Funded with $25 million from The Grainger Foundation of Lake Forest, Illinois, the Grainger Institute for Engineering will serve as an incubator for trans-disciplinary research conducted in the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering. Such research will enable the College to lead discoveries in targeted technological areas important to society and to our nation’s economy.
Research in the Institute
The Grainger Institute for Engineering is designed to allow the College to be nimble in identifying critical research areas and rapidly growing those areas into self-sustaining thrusts. Currently, researchers in the Institute are focusing on advanced manufacturing and materials discovery and sustainability—areas that build in existing strengths within the College of Engineering and at UW-Madison. These three areas share commonalities and each benefit from close interaction with the others. Together, they provide opportunities to accelerate the process of materials discovery to application or use in a product, and to engage in this process in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner.
Advanced manufacturing: In manufacturing, a process known as additive manufacturing has many advantages, including the potential to save manufacturers money and reduce waste. The process draws on digital models to “print” 3D components layer by layer, allowing manufacturers to quickly generate and revise product prototypes, or to cost-effectively mass-produce small quantities of custom components. As a result, manufacturers consume fewer raw materials, use less energy, and produce products more efficiently. Coupling additive manufacturing with digital manufacturing and supply-chain optimization can give U.S. industries a competitive advantage.
Accelerated materials discovery: New materials with unique properties provide manufacturers opportunities to produce new products—and as a result, they can gain a competitive advantage by developing and producing products using new materials with unique properties. For example, researchers have developed nanomaterials and carbon nanotubes with specific properties, and those materials are applied in products ranging from sports equipment and clothing to drug-delivery vehicles and energy technologies. Computational and combinatorial methods allow us to rapidly search for and identify new materials or material systems.
Materials sustainability: Manufacturers also gain an advantage by reducing their reliance on traditional materials made with expensive or rare elements. The rate of use of the earth’s elements, as well as their location, requires that we learn to use them more effectively and efficiently. Through research in the area of materials sustainability, we can optimize existing materials, and to develop new materials that replace rare or potentially inaccessible materials. We also can create ways to recover and recycle our materials at the end of a product’s life through efficient, environmentally friendly processes.
These research areas are critical at a national level: U.S. President Barack Obama aims to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing through an initiative called the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. Research leadership in advanced manufacturing will help to strengthen the global competitiveness of existing U.S. manufacturers, spur new ventures, and boost local and state economies. Advanced materials are key to the success of this initiative. The national Materials Genome Initiative aims to boost U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and make the process of discovering and developing advanced materials faster, less expensive, and more predictable.
Attracting top scholars
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is known for an environment that supports innovation and collaboration across departments, schools and colleges. The Grainger Institute for Engineering will foster that environment. The Grainger Foundation’s commitment will create an endowment for professorships, faculty scholar awards and postdoctoral fellowships, with additional support for new faculty from UW-Madison, the UW-Madison Vilas Trust, and the College. In total, the funding will enable the College to hire 25 new faculty. This commitment will enable the College to attract clusters of top engineering faculty to define new research directions through the Grainger Institute for Engineering..
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