Material Science Department celebrates its new home in newly built Micron Center for Materials Research building

Roughly two years ago, Boise State University started its journey to build a brand new world-class research and educational facility for its Material Science Department. With a mission to attract the best and brightest researchers and students in the field, the $50 million Micron Center for Materials Research opened its doors at the beginning of the 2020 fall semester.

It all started after receiving a $25 million gift from the Micron Technology Foundation Inc.—the largest single gift in Boise State history—for the Micron Center for Materials Research. 

The 97,000 square-foot building contains a 250-seat lecture hall, two large classrooms, offices and workspaces for faculty members, staff and graduate students. The building also holds a lab capable of supporting high-end research that is hosting some of the most precise and sensitive equipment in the world.

Boise State’s program 20 years ago was a small interdisciplinary minor that gained a partnership with Micron who later helped transform into the foundation it is today.

[Photo of the new Micron Center for Material Science Research on Boise State campus]
Photo by Mackenzie Hudson | The Arbiter

The growth over the last five years in the department has made it among the nation’s best programs by increasing research by 331% while achieving a 41% female representation in the undergraduate program. Together, they shaped what is now the largest STEM-based Ph.D. program in Idaho and set a pivoting point for the future of Idaho in advancing materials teaching and research at Boise State.

Annalies Tipton is currently a student at the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE). When asked about her experience so far this semester at the new facility, she expressed how important the upgrade is for the future of the program.

“As an MSE student it makes me really happy because it means that our department is growing and that our research is advancing. It is also exciting because I feel like MSE is a very small major, and sometimes we can get overlooked, but now we have a physical space on campus that you cannot really ignore,” Tipton said.

Tipton loves how large the new space is, back in the spring her classes were all online. Though currently her major concern is not being able to pop into professor’s offices or into the department office due to safety concerns. Tipton expressed that the faculty-student relationship is a lot harder to maintain right now with the current restrictions. Luckily the 250-seat lecture hall and two 80-seat classrooms offer plenty of whiteboards and study rooms to help engage students like Tipton in the classroom. The new building brings a range of benefits for students to help research and gather data, along with better facilitation to faculty in the department.

Academic Programs Manager for the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering, Jessica Economy, is excited for the program to grow and the building is something she believes students will enjoy working in.

“It has been wonderful to see how students are able to use the different indoor and outdoor spaces to work on campus and connect with others. The flexibility speaks so much to the potential the space holds,” Economy said.

Due to the high-class equipment, the four-story building has a 25-inch concrete foundation to provide a stable vibration-free structure. The building is equipped with enough space to help work with the manufacturing technologies on an industrial level.

Dr. Will Hughes, director and professor at the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering, is proud to be a part of the program as it changes for staff and students alike. Hughes has received recognition and funding for science, teaching, and civic engagement. He also holds four patents in nanoscience, seven fellowships and seven awards. 

“We are the only school that I know of in the United States named after a global semiconductor company, we carry this banner with great pride as we strive to make materials that matter,” Hughes said. “We do this by embracing inclusive practices, supporting campus, and community collaborations and maintaining an unshakable focus on student learning.” Hughes conducts research addressing materials science scanning probe microscopy, nanomaterials, DNA nanotechnology and engineering education.

Hughes currently works as a member of the university’s interdisciplinary Nanomaterials and Device Group, according to his Boise State faculty and staff profile. His team engineers biomolecular tools made from DNA. The Nanoscale Materials and Device Group conducts cutting-edge research while offering select undergraduate students a rigorous opportunity to grow into professional careers that will benefit them and society

The research component of the building is organized into four core areas, including DNA and Bio-Nanotechnology, Materials Chemistry, Applied Electrochemistry and Thin Films. These are supported by two sections in the building: The Instrumentation suite and the Teaching Labs. The faculty/graduate working suites make up an important part of the program. The faculty suites are envisioned as an interconnected suite where communication and interaction between floors is optimized. Support spaces such as conferencing, workrooms and kitchens are provided as part of the suite.

Each research group gets their own place within the building’s layout, giving them an identity within the building’s programs. Tipton is excited to see what the future holds for MSE students. 

“It is really awesome to be able to have a space where you can see your classmates consistently, even if it’s from a distance due to COVID,” Tipton said.

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