U.S. Army Funds New Institute
Just as the Apollo program opened up the field of microelectronics, MIT’s new Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies could usher in a new era in materials science. The institute, announced in March, will create nanomaterials for foot soldiers-smart clothing and sophisticated gear to protect them against biowarfare agents, say, or support their muscles during combat.
The U.S. Army selected MIT to head up the research effort because of the Institute’s strong industry ties and solid science and engineering programs. MIT will receive $50 million from the army over five years and another $40 million from industry. Edwin Thomas, professor of materials science and engineering, will direct the institute, which will bring together 135 MIT faculty spanning nine departments, associates from the army, DuPont and Raytheon, and doctors from the Cambridge, MA-based Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology. Several MIT researchers are already developing smart materials that could have military applications, such as alloys that switch between solid and fluid states and photonic fabrics that reflect thermal radiation. In addition to helping equip soldiers, the army funds could also advance materials science in general, leading to new innovations in health care, for instance, or telecommunications.