New initiatives supported by the federal CHIPS and Science Act—such as the Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs program just launched by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA)—present huge opportunities for advances in materials R&D.

To seize these opportunities, says Himanshu Jain, Diamond Distinguished Chair and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) and director of Lehigh’s Institute for Functional Materials and Devices (I-FMD), requires convergence.

Bringing together expertise from across academia and regional and national industry and defense laboratory partners was the goal of the Lehigh Materials Symposium and Open House held May 11, 2023. I-FMD hosted the event, which attracted about 80 members of the materials research community, including five distinguished keynote speakers, to share knowledge, spark new ideas, and expand networks.

The event also showcased I-FMD’s research teams and facilities to attract external collaborators and users of Lehigh’s world-class materials research facilities, including the Materials Characterization Facility and Integrated Nanofabrication and Cleanroom Facility.

I-FMD is a hub for interdisciplinary research at Lehigh. The institute connects Lehigh’s expertise in the synthesis, fabrication, processing, and materials characterization through applications involving sensors, actuators, and other devices that have critical functionality across mechanical, electronic, photonic, and chemical domains.

Symposium attendees met in Lehigh’s Health Science and Technology building, a state-of-the-art facility specifically designed to encourage the comingling of experts and ideas across STEM disciplines. This was the second time I-FMD has hosted this event, and the first large-scale, in-person gathering of the materials research community on campus since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jain and Professor Anand Jagota, Lehigh’s vice provost for research, delivered opening remarks along with Fadia Halma, Lehigh Valley regional director in the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. Halma highlighted examples of exciting university-industry collaborations taking place across the state, paying particular attention to coalitions being formed in the Lehigh Valley to submit proposals for the recently announced EDA Tech Hubs.

Chris Heckle
Dr. Chris Heckle, director of ANL’s Materials Manufacturing Innovation Center, discussed "Scaling of Materials for the Future."

Keynote speakers covered a broad range of topics:

  • Dr. David LaVan, a group leader at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) who is currently on detail to the CHIPS R&D program, spoke in detail about this new federally funded effort supporting technology innovation in semiconductor research and development across the nation.
  • Arizona State University Professor Alexandra Navrostky—a “legendary materials researcher,” in the words of former colleague and new Lehigh Professor and MSE Department Chair Ricardo Castro—gave an overview of the Materials of the Universe initiative she leads at ASU. “The universe is made of materials!” was her slogan, noting the far-reaching nature of the field.
  • Mike Aghajanian, R&D manager for Coherent, a global leader in materials, networking, and lasers for the industrial, communications, electronics, and instrumentation markets, offered an industry perspective on high-precision components for semiconductor manufacturing applications.
  • Dr. Chris Heckle, who was recently named director of the Materials Manufacturing Innovation Center at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory provided an overview of materials research at ANL.
  • Dr. Kal Shastri, CEO of optical interconnect company AAYUNA and a well-known serial entrepreneur from the Lehigh Valley, discussed challenges in manufacturing optoelectronic devices, especially the challenges related to packaging optical and electrical components.

Attendees also heard overviews of I-FMD’s research thrusts—including advanced manufacturing, soft materials and biomaterials research, and materials for renewable energy systems—presented by leaders in each area. A presentation on efforts in photonics and nanotechnology by faculty in Lehigh’s Center for Photonics and Nanoelectronics highlighted Lehigh’s leadership through I-FMD in this critical area of research.

The event also included a networking lunch as well as a poster session, featuring the laboratories and projects of more than 30 faculty members and PhD students affiliated with I-FMD.

I-FMD Materials Symposium poster

Fadia Halma

Fadia Halma, Lehigh Valley regional director in the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, talked about opportunities for partnerships among academic institutions and industry, including for the recently announced EDA Tech Hubs.

Jim Gilchrist

Chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Jim Gilchrist was among the I-FMD research thrust leaders who took part in the symposium.

Poster session attendee

The event also included a poster session (above) and a networking lunch (main image).