It's the start of a new era for the University of Tennessee's one-of-a-kind materials research center.
Located at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm on Alcoa Highway, the Institute for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing provides entrepreneurs and businesses with access to some of the most innovative tools in materials science.
One of the biggest challenges for academic researchers is transitioning the research and information they have discovered at the university out into the real world.
But when you're working in the same building as the industries you're trying to reach, that process becomes a lot easier.
"We do that really well on this research park because our industry partners live right here with us," said Deborah Crawford, UT's Vice Chancellor for Research. "They're able to meet with our faculty and students every day, and they're able to hire students into their companies when (they) graduate because of the great relationships that form here."
The facility supports more than 160 faculty and thousands of undergraduate and graduate students working on advanced materials and manufacturing projects. They're working on everything from creating new biomaterials for bone repair to researching the quantum properties of materials.
"We are the launching pad for these young students' careers," said Gerd Duscher, a professor focusing on microscopy at UT. "People recognize that we have world-class facilities and that we train world-class scientists, and that's what it's all about."
The research center builds on the groundwork from the well-known Joint Institute for Advanced Materials and its mission to promote innovative research from experienced faculty and researchers at UT. The institute already has a close relationship with the Oak Ridge National Lab, but now has the opportunity to showcase work with other industries.
"There's no negative impact on our relationship with the (Oak Ridge National) Lab, which we very much prize, but rather it's a celebration of the work that we do, internally and externally, with many other faculty and students and many other industry and community partners," Crawford said.
What else is going on at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm?
UT's Research Park at Cherokee Farm is a 200-acre research property dedicated to solving medical, scientific and technological problems of national significance. The center not only serves the entire UT System, but also public and private partners in Knoxville and East Tennessee.
The park is now home to 16 businesses and entrepreneurs. Civil & Environmental Consultants was the first private business to move into the park back in 2016, building a 45,000-square-foot operations center on the property.
The new materials institute also collaborates with the new UT Spark Innovation Center, an initiative to help early-stage technology companies in East Tennessee. Current clients at the Spark Center include SkyNano, which was recently named as a finalist for Elon Musk's $100 million carbon removal tech prize.
"Our companies are actually sharing a space to solve their problems and become investable," said Tom Rogers, the president and CEO of the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm and the executive director of the Spark Innovation Center. "The Spark Center doesn't just provide space — it provides expert mentoring, guidance, help in raising funds and all the things you need to do to become investable."
Becca Wright: Higher education reporter at Knox News
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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: University of Tennessee relaunches advanced materials science center