Center for Materials Science and Engineering

Director: Professor Michael Rubner | Email | Website

77 Massachusetts Ave. • 13-2106 • Cambridge, MA 02139 • (617) 253-6850

Since 1994, the Center for Materials Science and Engineering (CMSE) at MIT has been one of a nation-wide network of Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

CMSE plays a critical role in bringing the diverse MIT materials community together by encouraging and supporting collaborative research and innovative educational outreach programs and by providing state-of-the-art shared experimental facilities (SEFs).

The clear and important mission of CMSE is to enable – through interdisciplinary fundamental research, innovative educational outreach programs and directed knowledge transfer – the development and understanding of new materials, structures and theories that can impact the current and future needs of society. The complexities of such research clearly require input from industry and the expertise of many faculty working collaboratively in a team-based approach. To accomplish this important mission, CMSE enables collaborative, interdisciplinary research among MIT faculty and among MIT faculty and the researchers of other universities, industry, and government laboratories.


CMSE promotes collaborative research through several mechanisms: interdisciplinary research groups (IRGs), seed projects, SEFs, and outreach programs. Our research programs typically support a total of 25 to 30 faculty members from multiple MIT departments.

CMSE’s current research portfolio includes the following three interdisciplinary research groups involving faculty from nine different MIT departments:

  • IRG I: Harnessing In-Fiber Fluid Instabilities for Scalable and Universal Multidimensional Nanosphere Design, Manufacturing, and Applications
  • IRG II: Simple Engineered Biological Motifs for Complex Hydrogel Function
  • IRG III: Nanoionics at the Interface: Charge, Phonon, and Spin Transport

Connecting to Industry

MIT has a long-standing successful history of converting the knowledge gained through fundamental studies into important technologies that benefit the human experience across the globe. CMSE has made important contributions to this legacy including providing the fundamental knowledge base that underlies a number of successful start-up companies and new technologies. It is also interesting to note that the building managed by the CMSE (Building 13), has recently been identified as the generator of the largest number of technical patents on campus.

CMSE works closely with two key organizations at MIT: MIT’s Materials Processing Center (MPC) and Industrial Liaison Program (ILP). These organizations will work directly with CMSE supported faculty and the CMSE director to make connections to industry and explore how the basic science generated with the center can be utilized to enhance existing technologies or to establish new technologies. The CMSE shared experimental facilities will also act as incubator space for new fledgling start-up companies in need of access to state-of the-art facilities and highly trained operators. In addition, center driven international collaborations and the numerous collaborations planned between IRG researchers and scientists at other universities and national and industrial laboratories will provide excellent opportunities for knowledge transfer and exchange. The main goal of these collaborations will be to keep industry, government laboratories, and other universities aware of the latest developments and discoveries from within the center and, where possible, facilitate technological developments that will impact society and the economy.

Educational Outreach

CMSE’s educational outreach programs support directly its center mission and in nearly all cases are fully integrated into its research programs. This high level of integration means that outreach participants have the opportunity to experience and contribute to cutting edge research that often leads to co-authorship of technical papers. CMSE faculty also benefit tremendously from these programs as they gain access to highly motivated individuals with a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences.

CMSE’s educational outreach programs divide into two main types: core programs in which participants spend at least one week (typically 8-10 weeks) at MIT working on MRSEC research or engaged in specific MRSEC run science and technology activities, and special programs in which MRSEC faculty, students and post-docs contribute CMSE content to programs and events on campus and at institutions outside of MIT.

CMSE long-running core educational programs include the Summer Research Internship Program (REU) which is run with the Materials Processing Center, the Community College REU Program, the Research Experience for Teachers Program (RET), the middle school summer program, the partnership with Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Women’s Technology Program (WTP - in collaboration with the department of electrical engineering and computer science), the Science Teacher Enrichment Program (STEP) and providing UROP funding for 8-10 UROPs per year. 

Special programs include workshops and lab demonstrations to groups of teachers and visiting K-12 classes, providing substantial materials science content for special public events such as the MIT Museum’s Second Fridays program and the annual citywide Cambridge Science Festival and presenting lectures to science teachers attending MIT’s Science and Engineering Program for Teachers, as well as high school students who participate in the Research Science Institute held on campus each June.

Shared Experimental Facilities (SEFs)

CMSE’s SEFs are a critically important resource to our MRSEC program and to the MIT community, as well as a number of outside academic and industrial organizations. These facilities, which are housed in over 11,600 sq. ft. in Building 13, have played a pivotal supportive role in many key science and engineering discoveries made at MIT. They include advanced tools for both materials characterization and processing. Many of the capabilities provided by the SEFs are unique such as a TEM fitted with a cathodoluminescence system. Decisions about equipment added to the SEFs will be motivated by a desire to provide and maintain large sophisticated tools not readily available to individual investigators.

The SEFs not only serve the CMSE research program, but they continue to be an important resource to the broader materials community (both inside and outside MIT). Over the course of a typical year about 1,400 individual users utilize the facilities.  Typical users include CMSE supported faculty and their students, other MIT investigators and their students, MIT undergraduate course participants, researchers from other universities and non-profit and industrial organizations.

CMSE runs four major facilities Materials Analysis, Electron Microscopy, X-ray Diffraction, and Nano Materials, each staffed by a team of highly motivated professionals.