A Vibrant Landscape for Exchange

The Rice Advanced Materials Institute builds interdisciplinary collaborations.

Spring 2024
By Mike Williams

The Rice Advanced Materials Institute established itself at the Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science with the arrival of materials scientist Lane Martin, who became its director in July. The institute’s efforts will help supercharge the campus ecosystem to innovate in next-generation materials solutions to challenges in the energy transition — a global shift in how we make, use and store energy. 

Martin, who joined Rice from the University of California, Berkeley, sees the institute as a catalyst that complements departments across campus and provides a space for shared research. “We’re focused on identifying the gaps where we need one or two people to create bigger teams that cross disciplines,” he says. To that end, he’s conducting searches to fill nine faculty positions, including two endowed by the Welch Foundation. “The goal is to hire across the entire landscape of academia,” he adds.

The goal is to hire across the entire landscape of academia.

Lane Martin, photo by Michael Starghill
Lane Martin, photo by Michael Starghill

Martin expects the O’Connor Building will be a “vibrant landscape for exchange” among scientists, students and outside collaborators focused on materials innovations across three broad areas: next-generation electronics, energy systems and the environment. 

In the first area, Martin says, researchers will ask: “How do we lower energy costs to do computation, memory,
sensing — all these kinds of things that are pervasive in everything we use? We don’t know how to function without them at this point.” 

The second area of focus, energy systems, encompasses more than just energy storage. “There are a lot of materials problems in dealing with how we store and harvest and convert energy,” he says. “How do you make sure they’re sustainable, and that we can make them at scales that have an impact?” 

The third area is centered around environmental stewardship, Martin says, noting that remediation and the creation of future technologies to ensure clean air, water and soil will require sophisticated materials. 

Computational approaches increasingly “touch the entire spectrum of natural sciences and engineering,” he says. “The way materials research has evolved in the last decade or so, there’s increasing interest in having not just experimental work but also theoretical simulation. We have great people here, but we could probably have a few more to mesh with the experimentalists doing material synthesis and characterization and devices. They give insights we often can’t get any other way.” 

Learn more at rami.rice.edu.