DMI Planning Retreat Peers into the Future of Materials Science

12/20 Pratt School of Engineering

Students and faculty from every corner of campus gather to discuss the future of materials science research at Duke

People sit around a U-shaped block of desks in Duke's Karsh Alumni and Visitor Center
DMI Planning Retreat Peers into the Future of Materials Science

Several dozen faculty and students gathered the week before Thanksgiving to hold the first-ever Duke Materials Initiative (DMI) planning retreat. Taking place in Duke’s new Karsh Alumni and Visitor Center, the event featured insightful conversation about the future of DMI and the fields of soft matter and hard matter, as well as an innovative poster session and what everybody agreed was a delicious spread of food and drink. 

DMI’s vision is to foster innovation and sustained excellence in materials science and engineering research and education by creating a culture that transcends traditional departmental and school boundaries. The planning meeting included a large contingent of faculty and students from all corners of Duke, including physics, condensed matter and Duke’s student chapter of the Materials Research Society. 

“DMI has grown a lot since its inception, and we can’t wait to see what the coming year has in store for all of us. I expect next year’s event will be even more successful.” 

christoph schmidt

The event kicked off with a quick recap of what DMI has accomplished so far, punctuated by a rise in US News graduate program rankings, a continuing string of excellent symposia, a half-dozen large collaborative research grants, and overall growth in graduate students and facility capabilities. Attendees then moved into discussions about where DMI should be heading in the future and the trajectory of the scientific fields its working to enhance. 

Three people stand by a research poster in a giant wood-laden roomThe energetic group provided a long list of useful feedback, including suggestions on how often communications should be sent out; methods for building community such as signature seminars, workshops and dinners; and ideas for new curriculum initiatives that could draw the community closer together. After a quick break, the retreat then moved into analyzing the growth of its signature fields, including discussion on what the big topics will be in the decades to come; how the field will mature in industry and academia and how to participate in that growth; and how Duke’s facilities and infrastructure can help support those goals. 

The event concluded with a student poster session, complete with food, drink and conversation, including a visit from Dean Jerome Lynch. Taking home top honors for their posters were Heer Majithia, Marcello DeLuca and Behzad Golshaei. 

“Even though this was the first time we’ve done one of these events, we were encouraged by the breadth of representation from different disciplines and the high level of discussion we were able to create,” said Stefan Zauscher, co-director of DMI and professor of mechanical engineering and materials science. 

“We’re excited by the possibilities this event gave voice to,” added Christoph Schmidt, co-director of DMI and the Hertha Sponer Distinguished Professor of Physics. “DMI has grown a lot since its inception, and we can’t wait to see what the coming year has in store for all of us. I expect next year’s event will be even more successful.”