The Institute for Materials Announces Initiative Leads for the 2023-24 Academic Year

IMat Initiatives

Materials research is foundational to the creation of new technologies and economic growth in a variety of areas, which include transportation, energy storage and generation, recyclability, information and communication, infrastructure, and healthcare. To facilitate advances in materials research, Georgia Tech’s Institute for Materials (IMat) brings together researchers from academia and industry to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations in materials research to address the opportunities and challenges in these areas.

To enable this research, IMat leadership has supported strategic interdisciplinary initiatives since 2021. Each initiative has a dedicated faculty lead to guide the initiative and prepare teams to compete for mid- and large-scale, multi-investigator research centers with academic, national laboratory, and industry partners. Initiative leads also work to increase the campus’ collaborative spirit by working with other Interdisciplinary Research Institutes, campus units, and the Georgia Tech Research Institute to design and support research programs. Initiative leads serve for one academic year and may be considered for renewal based on their progress in achieving community-building goals and their impact on IMat and the materials innovation ecosystem at Georgia Tech.

“The goal of our initiative lead program is to provide support for these strategic interdisciplinary research areas,” said IMat Executive Director Eric Vogel. “Now that we are in the third year of the program, we have seen significant growth in many of the initiatives we have supported, including batteries and energy storage and materials laboratories for the future.”

Materials for Energy Storage Initiative to Become Georgia Tech Advanced Battery Center

Matthew McDowell has served as an IMat initiative lead in Materials for Energy Storage, a joint initiative with the Strategic Energy Institute (SEI), since the program began in 2021. With the nation’s increased focus on electric vehicles, battery storage technologies have gained significant attention since McDowell launched his initiative. In addition, the state of Georgia is becoming the epicenter of the battery belt of the Southeast, with more than $25 billion invested or announced in EV-related research in the past three years. The Materials for Energy Storage Initiative has worked to highlight Georgia Tech’s strong energy storage research community and how it can help shape the development of next-generation energy storage devices. In 2023, McDowell and his team hosted Georgia Tech Battery Day, a sold-out event that brought together more than 230 energy researchers and industry representatives to advance energy storage technologies.

This year, the Materials for Energy Storage Initiative will become the Georgia Tech Advanced Battery Center, with McDowell and Gleb Yushin as co-directors. The new center will build community at Georgia Tech, work to enhance relationships with industrial partners, and create a new battery manufacturing facility on Georgia Tech’s campus. The Advanced Battery Center is the latest initiative to gain external funding and become a center, in addition to the Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics and the Georgia AI Manufacturing coalition led by former IMat Initiative Lead Aaron Stebner.

Meet the 2023-24 IMat Initiative Leads


Materials for Solar Energy Harvesting and Conversion

Juan-Pablo Correa-Baena is an assistant professor and the Goizueta Early Career Faculty Chair in the School of Materials Science and Engineering. He holds a B.S. in management and engineering and an M.S. and Ph.D. in environmental engineering, all from the University of Connecticut. Correa-Baena runs the Energy Materials Lab at Georgia Tech, which focuses on understanding and control of crystallographic structure and effects on electronic dynamics at the nanoscale of low-cost semiconductors for optoelectronic applications.

As an initiative lead, Correa-Baena will work to create a community around solar energy harvesting and conversion at Georgia Tech. He aims to integrate photovoltaic, photodetectors, and related devices into IMaT-related research; energize research in these areas at Georgia Tech at large; and consolidate the expertise of the many research groups working on or around photovoltaics/photodetectors that will allow us to target interdisciplinary research funding opportunities. He also wants to provide an official link at Georgia Tech for industry partners to interact with faculty on photovoltaics, with a special aim at First Solar and QCells, the largest solar panel factory in the western hemisphere.

Autonomous Research for Materials

Mark Losego is an associate professor, MSE Faculty Fellow, and Dean’s Education Innovation Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering. He holds a B.S. from Penn State University and an M.S. and Ph.D. from North Carolina State University, all in materials science and engineering. The Losego research lab focuses on materials processing to develop novel organic-inorganic hybrid materials and interfaces for microelectronics, sustainable energy devices, national security technologies, and advanced textiles.

As an IMat initiative lead, Losego will help build a community at Georgia Tech that works toward developing autonomous and intelligent systems (robots) that execute physical experiments — processing, characterizing, and measuring the properties of materials — and then uses this knowledge to iteratively and intelligently execute subsequent experiments that produce new knowledge about process-structure-property relations, which inform materials discovery and design. He also hopes to learn what technical questions, training opportunities, or other incentives would compel Georgia Tech roboticists to collaborate with materials scientists to develop autonomous materials discovery systems and what the Georgia Tech materials community can do with emerging, inexpensive, and simple-to-use robotics systems to drive autonomous materials discovery.

Macromolecular Materials at Biotic and Abiotic Interfaces

Valeria Tohver Milam is an associate professor and MSE Faculty Fellow in MSE. She holds a B.S. from the University of Florida, and an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, all in materials science and engineering. Her research interests are in DNA-based ligands for molecular, macromolecular, and mesoscale targets and bio-inspired colloidal assembly for multifunctional drug delivery vehicles and colloidal-based sensing. She also leads the Milam Group.

As an IMat initiative lead, Milam will work to build an inclusive and active community across and beyond Georgia Tech to identify emerging research directions in macromolecular materials. Macromolecules, whether natural, bio-inspired, or completely synthetic, hold promise for enabling the next generation of materials to successfully perform at biotic as well as abiotic interfaces. Motivated by broad applications ranging from health to the environment, this initiative will bring together experimental and computational engineers and scientists focused on fundamental studies of macromolecular systems. The goal is to identify pathways to novel compositions, structures, synthesis, and characterization approaches to designing and implementing macromolecular materials.

Mechanical Metamaterials

D. Zeb Rocklin is an assistant professor in the School of Physics. He holds a B.Sc. in physics and economics from the California Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include soft condensed matter physics and adjacent fields like statistical physics, physics of living systems, and hard condensed matter with a particular focus on the relationship between the geometric structure of a system and its mechanical response. He leads the Rocklin Group at Georgia Tech, which focuses on the structure and motion of soft materials.

As an IMat initiative lead, Rocklin aims to bring faculty together within the Colleges of Sciences, Engineering, and Design to develop, characterize, and apply novel metamaterials — those with programmed structures above the atomic scale, blurring the line between material and machine. They can reveal fundamentally new physics while also incorporating new functionality for flexibility, strength, and intelligent processing of mechanical force and energy.

Materials and Interfaces for Catalysis and Separations | Marta Hatzell
Marta Hatzell is an associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. She earned a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and an M.Eng in environmental engineering from Pennsylvania State University. Her research group focuses on exploring sustainable catalysis and separations with applications from electrofuels and solar fuels to desalination.

To mitigate issues related to climate change, there is a societal push to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Thermal separations and catalysis are the primary sources of carbon emissions in industry today. Thus, there is a growing research focus on developing next-generation materials for net zero catalysis and separation processes. In year one, Hatzell aided in bringing together faculty for two center-level proposals through the NSF and DOE. She also helped run a workshop to disseminate information regarding the DOE Earthshot call. In her second year as an initiative lead, Hatzell will continue to bring faculty together who are working on materials-related issues aimed at decarbonizing industrial separations and catalysis, identify the bottlenecks for new materials, and assess their long-term impacts.

Quantum Responses of Topological and Magnetic Matter | Zhigang Jiang
Zhigang Jiang is a professor in the School of Physics. He holds a B.S. in physics from Beijing University and a Ph.D. in physics from Northwestern University. He was also a postdoctoral research associate at Columbia University jointly with Princeton University and NHMFL from 2005 to 2008. His research interests are in the quantum transport and infrared optical properties of topological and magnetic materials. His current projects include infrared magneto-spectroscopy of topological semimetals, band-engineering topological phases in metamorphic InAsSb ordered alloys, and developing new materials for portable, real-time radiation monitoring devices.

The goals of this initiative are twofold: first, to anchor, develop, and promote the community of researchers working on the fundamental magnetic properties of quantum materials. And second, to connect these researchers to application-centric initiatives led by other science or engineering colleagues across Georgia Tech. The focus will be on fundamental research progress in topological and magnetic matter and to communicate their importance, relevance, and significance to Georgia Tech’s research audience. In addition, this initiative aims to leverage fundamental discoveries in quantum materials and explore how they can be translated in their own right into quantum systems with new functionalities for spintronics, qubits, and electronic devices.

Materials in Extreme Environments | Richard W. Neu
Richard W. Neu is a professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering. His research involves the understanding and prediction of the fatigue behavior of materials and closely related topics, typically when the material must resist degradation and failure in harsh environments. He has investigated a broad range of structural materials, including steels, titanium alloys, nickel-base superalloys, metal matrix composites, molybdenum alloys, high entropy alloys, medical device materials, and solder alloys used in electronic packaging. 

Neu served as an initiative lead in 2022 and will continue in this role in 2023. He will continue to engage and build an interdisciplinary research community to address the complex issues associated with new materials in extreme environments. These environments include high temperature, high pressure, corrosive, wear/erosion, cyclic loading, high-rate impacts, and radiation. In harsh environments, materials are continuously evolving and deforming, presenting a roadblock in advancing engineering systems due to the uncertainty in the performance of new materials or new process methods such as additive manufacturing. Managing this risk by predicting the uncertainties, both internal to the material (its structure feature) and external environment, is an important consideration that materials engineering must address.

Organic Photonics and Electronics | Jason Azoulay

Jason Azoulay is an associate professor and Georgia Research Alliance Vasser-Woolley Chair in Optoelectronics in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, with a joint appointment in the School of Materials Science and Engineering. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California at Santa Barbara and performed postdoctoral studies at Sandia National Laboratories. His research group unites strong synthetic foundations with physics, materials science, and engineering to synthesize and apply next-generation functional materials. Research within his group includes homogeneous catalysis applied to polymer synthesis; electronic, photonic, magnetic, and quantum materials; device fabrication and engineering; chemical sensing in complex aqueous environments for environmental monitoring; and the synthesis, application, and engineering of high-performance polymers across multiple technology platforms.

Emerging semiconductor materials open new pathways and opportunities to address critical national needs with global societal impacts in climate change, manufacturing, energy, healthcare, information science, consumer applications, defense-wide applications, and many others. Azoulay will work across multiple Georgia Tech centers, topical working groups, and institutes to create a unique materials research environment that spans traditionally siloed disciplines and materials classes. These efforts will advance the chemistry, materials science, and application of emerging photonic, optoelectronic, semiconductor, spin-based, and quantum technologies and raise the recognition of the materials innovations at Georgia Tech to the international stage.

Materials for Biomedical Systems | W. Hong Yeo

W. Hong Yeo is an associate professor and Woodruff Faculty Fellow in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the director of the IEN Center for Human-Centric Interfaces and Engineering at Georgia Tech. He received a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and genome sciences from the University of Washington and did a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on the areas of nano-microengineering, soft materials, molecular interactions, and biosystems, with an emphasis on nanomembrane bioelectronics and human-machine interfaces.


Yeo led the Materials for Biomedical Systems initiative in 2022 and will continue in this role in 2023, where he will continue to foster collaborations between faculty, researchers, and clinicians to advance research in biomaterials and biomedical systems. In 2022, this initiative successfully hosted the MBS Day by inviting more than 80 people from academia, industry, and national labs to share knowledge, research ideas, and commercialization opportunities. Yeo believes collaborative research environments between materials science and engineering and medicine will result in fundamental breakthroughs in bioinspired materials, human-centered designs, and integrated biomedical systems, which will significantly advance human healthcare. He also hopes to enhance human health via multidisciplinary materials research to tackle the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge to engineer better medicines in collaboration with both academic and industry partners.

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