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$25 million CU-Saudi link will boost nanoscience research, with focus on sustainability

A new partnership between Cornell and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia promises to strengthen Cornell's research efforts in energy and sustainability.

The Cornell University-KAUST Center for Research and Education will receive an estimated $5 million per year for five years to establish what is hoped will become a leading research hub for nanomaterials science and technology.

Emmanuel Giannelis, Cornell's Walter R. Read Professor of Engineering and chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Lynden Archer, the M.L. Hart Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, will be co-directors of CU-KAUST.

The partnership will focus on a new class of hybrid nanomaterials recently discovered at Cornell. Termed nanoparticle ionic materials (NIMs), they hold potential for applications in emerging technologies for water desalination, carbon capture and solar energy.

KAUST, a research university whose core campus will be located on the Red Sea at Thuwal, is scheduled to open in September 2009. The $25 million award to Cornell will help create one of four KAUST centers for science research through the Saudi university's Global Research Partnership program. KAUST Centers at Oxford, Stanford and Texas A&M University will focus on applied mathematics, photovoltaics and computer science.

Both Cornell researchers have worked for several years to promote NIMs research, and they say the center will give the field a major boost.

"A center of this magnitude will accelerate the research and put it into the public domain," Giannelis said.

Cornell officials also will support development of KAUST's proposed KAUST Nanoscale Facility, drawing on past success with the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility. They also will provide advice on curriculum and faculty development at KAUST.

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The materials that Cornell scientists will be researching in the new CU-KAUST center have the characteristics of both liquids and solids.

They are called nanoparticle-based ionic materials (NIMs), and they are a new class of hybrid nanomaterials, meaning they are both organic and inorganic.

First developed at Cornell, they are believed to hold potential for applications in water desalination, carbon capture and solar energy.

NIMs are made by mixing nanoparticles with polymers. The resulting hybrid material maintains the structural integrity of the nanoparticles yet is liquid at temperatures well below the melting temperature of either the polymer or the nanoparticle.

Nanoparticles and nanostructures already transformed by Cornell scientists include silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide and fullerenes. These new materials undergo reversible phase changes, are able to form solutions with other liquids and act as solvents. They also flow smoothly, as viscosity changes with room temperature.

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Blaine Friedlander