Engineering Research Centers – Past, Present and Future
K. W. Wang, Ph. D.
Division of Engineering Education and Centers
Directorate for Engineering
National Science Foundation
Alexandria, VA 22314
U. S. A.
During the recent decades, the scientific and engineering community and the federal agencies have explored the potential of large-scale center-type research programs. It has been recognized that many of the most challenging and complex technical problems can only be addressed if researchers with diverse expertise combine their efforts and work across the boundaries between disciplines. The National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) program is a flagship program in this regard.
The ERCs are interdisciplinary, multi-institutional centers that join academia, industry, and government in partnership to produce transformational engineered systems and educate individuals that are adept at innovation and primed for leadership in the global economy. They operate at the interface between the discovery-driven culture of science and the innovation-driven culture of engineering. Since the ERC program’s inception in 1984, NSF has funded over 70 ERCs across the United States. The NSF funding level has been at about $4 million per year for each ERC for up to 10 years, during which time the centers would develop partnerships with industry, universities, and other government entities to sustain them upon graduation from NSF support. Throughout the years, the ERCs have contributed significantly to the technical community and the nation; educated more than 12,000 engineering graduates with interdisciplinary training, produced a tremendous amount of high impact publications, patents and licenses, and spin-off companies. Studies have estimated that the total downstream market value of ERC innovations to the U.S. economy is well over tens of billions of dollars. Recently, NSF funded the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to conduct a study to create a vision for future research centers in engineering (A New Vision for Center-Based Engineering Research, 2017, The National Academies Press). Building upon the NASEM’s recommendations, NSF developed a roadmap for the next generation of ERCs (Gen-4), which emphasizes cutting-edge research efforts that are convergent and will lead to strong societal impact. A Gen-4 ERC will have interacting foundational components that cover convergent research, workforce development, culture of diversity and inclusion, and innovation ecosystem. This presentation will provide an overview of the NSF ERC program to date, as well as new opportunities for the Gen-4 ERCs.
About the Speaker
Dr. Kon-Well Wang is the Stephen P. Timoshenko Professor of Mechanical Engineering (ME) at the University of Michigan (U-M) in Ann Arbor, MI. He is also on an Executive IPA (Intergovernmental Personnel Act) appointment as Division Director of the Division of Engineering Education and Centers (EEC), Directorate of Engineering, at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Alexandria, VA, since January 2019. The NSF EEC invests in the creation of 21st century engineers and the discovery of technologies through transformational center-based research including the large-scale Engineering Research Centers (ERCs – one of the flagship programs at NSF), research in education and inclusion, and research opportunities for students and teachers.
Dr. Wang received his Ph.D. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, worked at the General Motors Research Labs as a Senior Research Engineer, and started his academic career as a faculty at the Pennsylvania State University. During his Penn State years, Dr. Wang has served as the William E. Diefenderfer Chaired Professor in Mechanical Engineering, Director of the Structural Dynamics and Controls Lab, Associate Director of the Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence, and Group Leader for the Center for Acoustics and Vibration. Dr. Wang joined the U-M ME in 2008 and has been the Stephen P. Timoshenko Professor since then. For ten years, he served as the Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering at U-M (2008-18), and assumed the title of the Tim Manganello/BorgWarner Department Chair from 2013 to 2018.
Dr. Wang’s main technical interests are in the emerging fields of structural dynamics & controls, including adaptive structures & materials systems, tunable metamaterials & metastructures, and origami mechanics, dynamics & controls, with applications in shape, vibration & wave controls, vibration energy harvesting, structural health monitoring, and vehicle & robotics system dynamics & controls. He has received various recognitions for his accomplishments, such as the Pi Tau Sigma-ASME Charles Russ Richards Memorial Award, the ASME J.P. Den Hartog Award, the SPIE Smart Structures and Materials Lifetime Achievement Award, the ASME Adaptive Structures and Materials Systems Prize, the ASME N.O. Myklestad Award, the ASME Rudolf Kalman Award, the ASME Adaptive Structures and Material Systems Best Paper Awards, the NASA Tech Brief Award, and the SAE Ralph Teetor Award. His major leadership activities in the professional community include being Chair of the ASME Technical Committee on Vibration and Sound, Chair of the ASME Mechanical Engineering Department Heads Executive Committee, member of the ASME Design Engineering Division Executive Committee, General Chair of the SPIE Damping and Isolation Conference and of the ARO Workshop on Smart Structures, Chief Editor for the ASME Journal of Vibration & Acoustics, Associate Editor of the Journal of Intelligent Material Systems & Structures, and Editorial Advisory Board Member for the Journal of Sound and Vibration. Dr. Wang is a Fellow of the ASME, AAAS, and IOP.