IRES Track I: International Partnership for Responsive Infrastructure using Sustainable Multifunctional Materials (iPRISM)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Globally there is a critical need to reduce the energy use and environmental impact of buildings. Currently, the operation of buildings accounts for 40% of the energy consumption in the United States with buildings producing ~39% of process-related CO2 emissions globally. At the same time and in recent decades, materials research has advanced significantly through groundbreaking work on bioinspired materials that are smart, adaptive and responsive. The iPRISM program will leverage these advances by implementing new material technologies that enable buildings to sense, adapt and respond to functional and environmental conditions. In the process, these new technologies will improve the construction, performance, and maintenance of buildings, resulting in lower CO2 emissions and lower energy consumption. In addition, iPRISM will build on the strong partnership between the Penn State Center for Living Multifunctional Materials Systems and North Carolina A&T in the United States and the University of Freiburg livMatS Center of Excellence in Germany to increase participation of U.S. students from traditionally underrepresented groups in material science and research abroad. The iPRISM students will be guided in their research by world-renowned experts and will have access to unique facilities, including full-scale built structures that incorporate novel and nature-inspired composites. The iPRISM focuses on the development of novel synthetic 'living' materials critical to improving the construction, performance, and maintenance of buildings to increase their adaptiveness. Student research projects focus on key knowledge gaps in the design, manufacturing and characterization of living materials closely integrated with needs in sustainable, resilient and adaptive building design. In the construction stage, building materials will respond to light-triggers to adapt to the additive manufacturing process, and nature-inspired load-adapted composites will enable sustainable and green building materials. During the performance stage, responsive materials will facilitate smart building skins interacting autonomously with their physical environment and new self-powered materials will lower the energy needs of buildings. Finally, in the maintenance stage, multifunctional materials will advance sensor networks to monitor building operations. Our technical approach rests on strategies inherent to the development of engineered synthetic living materials and well-suited to emergent approaches and needs in realizing adaptive architecture, considering autonomous adaptation, robustness, resilience, energy harvesting, and sustainability.

This U.S.-German partnership builds on multidisciplinary research at the intersection of biology, material science and engineering, strengthens international research collaborations, and contributes to enhancing the competitiveness of the U.S. workforce in the global economy. The iPRISM research will achieve innovations in smart buildings with promise to improve the manufacture and maintenance of other large infrastructures. Our educational impacts include student mentoring, with a key goal of broadening student participation in materials science and STEM fields by leveraging programs at Penn State and a long-lasting partnership at NC A&T. These goals will strengthen the pipeline for the advancement and scientific leadership of students from underrepresented groups. Students will participate in scientific, social and cultural activities that will develop their professional skills and network, an impact that extending beyond the proposed program.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/228/31/25


  • National Science Foundation: $299,999.00


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