Materials scientist Bindu Nair helms US Defense Department’s $2.2 billion basic research portfolio

Written by William G. Schulz

Materials researchers might be happy to learn that one of their own, Bindu Nair, is at the helm of the US Department of Defense’s Basic Research Office. She is responsible for a $2.2-billion research portfolio that funds scientific work and fosters collaborations aimed at fundamental understanding in any of the sciences that can aid DoD’s mission and national defense strategies.  

Each funding announcement is written with DoD’s interests in mind, Nair says, though a specific military application is not a necessary condition.

“We are looking for inspired research,” Nair says, but, “we do not issue ‘problem statements’” for issues they would like researchers to tackle and solve. “We want to figure out how to help [researchers] create fantastic new science,” she says.

To foster relationships and build awareness of BRO funding opportunities, Nair says, staff members conduct site visits and meetings with university faculty and administrators as well as scientific societies, and they attend workshops and conferences. But a university official or principal investigator can also approach DoD to initiate possible collaboration.

Awareness of funding cycles is critical in approaching DoD to talk about possible funding, Nair says, because program officers can speak more freely to PIs before calls for proposals are listed at, where all DoD funding opportunities are posted. She also recommends that interested PIs contact the federal demonstration Partnership ( or the Council on Government Relations (

Nair, who holds a PhD degree in materials science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has worked in such areas as fuel cell membranes, chemical/biological sensors, and wearable power, took the reins this year as an interim director of BRO with a professional background that spans academic research, government contracting, and research administration, starting at the Department of Army’s Office of Scientific Research.

At BRO, Nair says, “My job is going out and hearing who is doing the research we are most interested in—what’s not to love?”

Bindu Nair will speak in the session on Research Funding Opportunities at the 2018 MRS Spring Meeting & Exhibit on Monday evening.

Materials Needs for Energy Sustainability by 2050

100% Replacement of Fossil Fuels by Sustainable Alternatives 

Wednesday, April 4 | 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm | PCC North, 100 level, Ballroom 120 D

Fossil fuels have been our primary energy source for over 200 years. Although the benefits to human society of harnessing fossil fuel for energy have long been touted, its pervasive and extensive costs are now at a critical point.  This panel event, co-organized by MRS Energy & Sustainability and the MRS Focus on Sustainability Subcommittee, will convene top experts to discuss fossil fuel replacement from laboratory concepts to demonstrated technology and the challenges to achieving 100% replacement of fossil fuels by sustainable alternatives.

This special program will include audience Q&A as well as real-time interactive audience polling, so bring your smartphone and be ready to participate in this provocative session!

RSVP your interest in attending by March 30!

The dawn and promise of quantum materials

Written by Ahmad R. Kirmani

Quantum chip_diamond-graphene

Illustration representing the future of quantum computing. A quantum chip comprising of diamond and graphene. Credit: Christoph Hohmann, NIM

The field of quantum materials has seen an exponential rise in research interest over the past two decades. The burst of activity has stemmed from an array of observations made in a certain class of materials that fail to be explained from a purely classical physics standpoint. Consider, for example, the interface between two rightly chosen insulators, such as lanthanum aluminate and strontium titanate. While classical physics would predict a perfectly insulating interface mirroring the bulk, experiments reveal a highly conducting region. It turns out that such oxide interfaces form strongly correlated electron systems resulting in a wide variety of emergent phenomena. A plethora of similar mind-bending observations can be explained by invoking the underlying notion of symmetry breaking at such interfaces, an idea central to quantum materials. Symmetry breaking, in modest terms, is a fluctuation that forces a physical system to leave its symmetric state and become asymmetric. Foreseeable applications of this materials class are wide-ranging and, in principle, revolutionary: Mott insulators, high-temperature superconductivity, quantum computing and quantum communication, besides many others.

Some of these findings have already transformed society. Giant magnetoresistance, for instance, is used for data storage currently and was aptly recognized by a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2007. Graphene, a wonder quantum material, as well as a whole slew of two-dimensional materials discovered and developed subsequently, define the bleeding edge of materials science, promising applications in flexible and stretchable electronics and the internet-of-things (IoT).

Perhaps the most groundbreaking application that quantum materials promise is quantum computing. The basis of quantum computing is a “qubit,” the quantum analogue of a classical “bit.” Quantum logic is the underlying math of a quantum computer, much like Boolean logic which defines the classical computer of today. However, quantum logic is different in that a superposition of the two accessible qubit states can exist simultaneously, and multiple qubits can be entangled—both of which enable math to be encoded in a completely different manner compared to a classical “bit.” Multiple materials systems have been used as demonstration qubits; one example is the quantum mechanical spin of a crystal defect, such as a nitrogen-vacancy complex in diamond, to initialize, manipulate, store, and read a pair of physical quantum mechanical states as data. A crucial thrust and a challenge in the race to the quantum computer is the realization of a long-lived coherent quantum system, where the quantum states remain interconnected, unperturbed and stable for an extended time. In order to find applications in computing, quantum systems need to satisfy the diVincenzo criteria, one of which requires the qubit to be protected from the surrounding environment to reduce decoherence, or the loss of coherence, that leads to loss of quantum information. Here, quantum materials hold potential.

“Quantum information theory devices use the discreteness for improved information processing or sensing. Topological effects in materials make use of an inherent stability provided by some extended symmetry property of a material. The canonical example of a topological distinction is that a donut is topologically distinct from a sphere because it has a hole. If you can find ways to encode information or otherwise design materials that make use of this topological protection you could potentially discover valuable or novel applications,” says Richard P. Muller, an expert in quantum materials from Sandia National Laboratories, and a co-organizer of Symposium LN01 in the upcoming 2018 MRS Spring Meeting & Exhibit in Phoenix, which is focused on the role of materials science in quantum information technologies. Muller says that beyond quantum sensing or information processing, “quantum materials could provide spintronic devices for more standard classical computing devices. They have been proposed for improved thermoelectric properties, and for improved microwave circulators for low temperature electronics.”

Christopher J. Richardson, based at the University of Maryland, who is a co-organizer of Symposium LN01, strongly feels that materials have the potential to revolutionize quantum computing in the near future. “We, as materials scientists, are focused on both conventional materials and quantum materials that can impact quantum information devices. A fundamental challenge is to be able to tune the properties of these materials to enhance information stored in quantum states. There is, therefore, a very tight coupling between materials synthesis and the technological application,” Richardson says.

In the words of John Preskill, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, for some applications, quantum computers may lead to “quantum supremacy”—enabling operations, processing, and calculations that are currently beyond the limits of the most powerful of today’s computers. Researchers are only beginning to unlock the grand potential that these materials have to offer.

Artificial Intelligence for Materials Development


Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are rapidly changing the world around us. The materials research community is just beginning to utilize AI and ML in the research process, and it is already clear that this represents a potentially game-changing development. Benji Maruyama (US Air Force Research Laboratory), Alán Aspuru-Guzik (Harvard University), and Kristofer Reyes (University at Buffalo) offer a preview of Symposium LN02 on Artificial Intelligence for Materials Development. 



2018 MRS Spring Meeting & Exhibit opens April 2!

S18 Phoenix


The 2018 Materials Research Society Spring Meeting & Exhibit, in Phoenix, Arizona, opens this Monday with 61 symposia and several tutorials and professional development seminars. The Meeting is being held on April 2-6, 2018. During the meeting, we will post news and highlights here and also send out daily highlights in the Meeting Scene e-newsletter by on-the-spot reporters.

FREE Science Writing Workshop – Application deadline extended!

A free, one-day science writing workshop will be held on Monday, April 2, 9:00 am – 4:30 pm, in parallel with the 2018 MRS Spring Meeting in Phoenix. You do not need to be registered for the Spring Meeting to attend the Science Writing Workshop. The workshop is limited to 12 participants. Applications deadline is extended to March 23, 2018.

Student and post-doc reporters and bloggers for the 2018 MRS Spring Meeting—Applications now being accepted


Graduate students and post-docs who are interested in contributing to the Meeting Scene® newsletter and the Meeting Blog for the 2018 MRS Spring Meeting are encouraged to apply. Reporters will be required to attend talks in a variety of symposia and write brief summaries (100-250 words) of four talks each day; bloggers will be required to post at least five items per day and also tweet about their experiences at the meeting. For completing these daily assignments, reporters and bloggers will receive reimbursement up to the student registration rate and a $50 stipend.

To apply, please send an email to stating your qualifications and your reasons for wanting to report or blog for us. We need only four reporters and four bloggers, so we will not be able to accept everyone who applies. We look forward to hearing from you! #s18mrs