Collaborative Institute between Engineering and Natural Sciences Names New Director

March 01, 2011

A Cockrell School of Engineering professor has been named director of the Texas Materials Institute (TMI), a campus-based consortium that brings together the most creative technical minds at The University of Texas at Austin to invent and enhance products ranging from large-scale machinery to cell phones, solar cells and nanomaterials that help heal the human body.

Mechanical Engineering Professor Arumugam "Ram" Manthiram, the Joe C. Walter Chair in Engineering, will take over as the institute's director March 1, replacing outgoing director Donald R. Paul. Paul, a chemical engineering professor and the Ernest Cockrell Sr. Chair in Engineering, has served as director since the institute was established in 1998 as a partnership between the Cockrell School of Engineering and the College of Natural Sciences.

The multi-disciplinary collaboration pairs together more than 160 faculty from the two colleges and includes a Materials Science and Engineering graduate degree program, which Manthiram will also oversee.

"The University of Texas at Austin has world-class faculty in materials science research and TMI is the interdisciplinary center for collaborations that are at the heart of transformative technologies," said Cockrell School of Engineering Dean Gregory L. Fenves. "Don Paul founded and made major strides with TMI, and I look forward to Ram building on those successes."

Manthiram joined the Cockrell School of Engineering in 1986 and is widely regarded in his field for developing low-cost electrode materials for lithium-ion batteries. His current research is focused on lithium-ion batteries, fuel cells, solar cells and supercapacitors.

A six-member search committee — made up of faculty from both colleges — was charged with finding a new director for the institute.

"[Manthiram] has a long history of doing materials science research at The University of Texas at Austin. He has guided many graduate students successfully through the Materials Science and Engineering program and he has been a strong and loyal supporter of TMI ever since its inception," said Chemical Engineering Professor Benny Freeman, who chaired the search committee.

Materials science, specifically nanoscience and nanotechnology, has received extensive media coverage because of its applications and impact on everything from drug delivery to improving energy efficiency.

"Much of modern technology that we enjoy these days is due to the development of advanced materials — everything from cell phones to water purification involves materials science," Manthiram said. "Without it, you can't build anything."

Manthiram said his goal as director is to advance the institute's four-point mission: to recruit and educate top students for its graduate degree program in Materials Science and Engineering, to provide faculty and students with the instrumentation and associated infrastructure needed to conduct modern materials research, to promote interdisciplinary research in the area of materials and to serve as the Organized Research Unit for materials research.

He also wants to increase the Cockrell School's ranking in materials science and engineering so that it better reflects the expertise of faculty and the impact of their research.

"We have a lot of high-quality faculty here and UT Austin is a national and global leader with breadth and depth in several key research areas of materials science and engineering," Manthiram said. "Faculty from both colleges are engaged in developing new materials and processes that have big societal impact."

For more information on TMI, visit the institute's Web site.