Moore’s law for chips, if they are to maintain a productive and up-to-date industrial career. It is my conviction that such an attitude needs to be instilled in our graduate education enterprise: “Look forward to reinventing yourself at least every decade.” I have seen that anticipation among the young faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, and I see it among the young faculty at this meeting. Let me say to you young faculty members, press on and be very inclusive engaging your colleagues from other sciences, business, and humanities—and plan to reinvent yourselves every 5 to 10 years. For the older ones among us, they say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but I think it can be done, provided we starve the old dog for a time.
For about a decade, I have directed an NSF STC dealing with the synthesis, growth, and analysis of electronic materials, an 11-year interdisciplinary program that has integrated graduate research, and the education that attends it, through collaborations between faculty in electrical engineering, chemistry, physics, and chemical engineering.
Why a center? For one reason, as in many other areas of science, engineering, and technology, there is a host of interesting questions that are not resolvable or even addressable by the traditional isolated individual-investigator mode of attack that has traditionally characterized my own work and most of my tribe. What we need for complex problems is a group of strong, capable individual investigators, i.e., those quite capable of operating successfully on their own, who come coherently together focused for a time with resources sufficient to attack complex problems—many of which centrally and intrinsically involve molecular-level chemistry coupled with all those complexities that link them to integrated systems—something like the words of the prophetic vision in the “valley of the dry bones.” But rather than thigh bones and leg bones being linked, we might say that the atoms connect to the molecules that connect to the nanoscale structures that connect to the mesoscale structures that connect the devices and cells that we make and use—in other words, the fundamental chemistry of integrated systems. In my view it is the nature of the problems that should drive interdisciplinary center-based research. Funding center-based research for a decade timescale, as in the NSF STCs program, focuses for a sufficiently long period of time the necessary faculty, facilities, funds, and students—something highly unlikely for single-investigator support. Developing central multiuser facilities is one critical benefit of center-based funding. Regarding naturally multidisciplinary research problems, there are, for graduate education in chemistry, wonderful opportunities and challenges in materials sciences, optical sciences, health sciences, neurosciences, and environmental sciences. Chemistry would do well to define itself for the purposes of graduate research education “in” rather than “out” of these arenas.
In the case of our center, we have targeted a number of fundamental issues regarding how the properties of molecules (precursors) are related to the properties of electronic material thin films grown from them, how to make novel multi-element films with desired electronic and optoelectronic properties, how to control and analyze films as they grow, and how to link chemical properties with electrical properties of interfaces. Our progress has relied on many long-term collaborations among faculty, students, and postdocs from chemistry, chemical engineering, physics, and electrical engineering. Collaborations that, once initiated through the STC, have developed complementary funding that will live on and evolve well past the sunset of the STC.
Again, why a center? For another reason, the professional lives of most of our graduates will involve defining, addressing, and assessing often complex issues that benefit enormously from multidisciplinary education and multidisciplinary experience. While course work is of some value, graduate training in this direction is, in my view, best accomplished when graduate students, well trained through fundamental course work in each of their various disciplines, work productively alongside each other and communicate daily. We have realized this kind of “hands-on” education with many of the