Research Centers in the Department

Spark Plasma Sintering Processing in the Ceramics Center, 2012

In 1920 the scope of the Department was enlarged by the creation of the NJ Ceramic Research Station within the framework of the existing Department. By this act of the State Legislature the functions of the Department and Research Station were defined; (1) resident instruction in the technical aspects of ceramics, (2) research on the mineral raw materials and their processing into ceramic products, and (3) extension activities including publication of bulletins. Dr. Richard McCormick, the University’s official historian, described the creation of the NJ Ceramics Research Station as “extremely significant toward establishing Rutgers as the State College”.

Soon after the end of WWII a group of leading ceramic scientists, military leaders, and leading ceramic educators, led by Professors N. Snyder and E.J. Smoke, met and identified the principal problems in ceramic high-frequency insulation. They outlined a research and development program that was sponsored by the US Army Signal Corps. The contract was awarded to the School of Ceramics and started Mar 1946. It was funded continuously until Dec 1969. The output of this research was presented at several symposia on electronic ceramics held each year for many years. These symposia were the basis for the formation of the Electronics Division of the American Ceramic Society in 1958 with John Koenig as the first Division Chairman, and were discontinued when the Division was formed. This effort resulted in 33 graduate degrees, several patents, and many presentations and publications.

The International Conference on Ceramic Foodware Safety convened by Rutgers University Ceramics Department and funded by the International Lead Zinc Research Organization (ILZRO) was held in Geneva, Switzerland on 12-14 November 1974 in participation with the World Health Organization. The conference was held to review the testing methods and to interpret results, standards, legislation and enforcement procedures for all ceramic foodware used for the preparation, storing, and serving of foods or beverages. The main objective was to review the state-of-art in heavy metal release mechanisms and to suggest international procedures relating to ceramic foodware safety. The Department had a long history of ILZRO supported research related to heavy metal release from ceramic foodware. This conference was of such significance that the President of Rutgers Dr. Edward Bloustein attended and presented some opening remarks.

The Department served as a subcontractor for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in support of a project at Princeton University on nuclear fusion in the late 1970s. The Department made large (48 inches in diameter) alumina rings that were placed into the nuclear fusion machine. Because of the specifications (25,000 psi strength, vacuum tight, metallizable into a steel jacket, close tolerance, and polished to a fine finish) for the rings no industrial company would offer to make them. It took the group led by Professor Smoke 18 months to produce their first ring. It was only through the development of a unique method of using pie-shaped pieces of refractory riding on single-crystal ruby ball bearings that the firing of the rings was successful without cracking due to shrinkage. A special high-pressure mold also had to be developed for the casting process.

The Howatt Laboratory, funded through the Howatt Foundation, was founded on 15 November 1980. The Foundation was established by a donation from the estate of Glen N. Howatt (Class of ’39) to support research in electronic ceramics. The holder of 24 patents, Glen Howatt pioneered the work in ceramics that precipitated the growth of the sub-miniature ceramic capacitor industry and developed materials and processes for manufacturing cadmium batteries. The Howatt Foundation currently supports the research of one PhD candidate.

The National Science Foundation formulated the concept of bringing industry, government, and academia together to perform research on a much larger scale than what was the norm under individual contracts. A survey of the ceramic industry by NSF produced the recommendation that any future center, as envisioned by NSF, be located at Rutgers. This was predominantly due to the very long and successful relationship that the Rutgers Ceramics Department had with the ceramic industry.

The Department was awarded an NSF planning grant in July 1981. The faculty studied the idea of cooperative research among university, industrial, and government organizations, planned the operation of the envisioned center, and held meetings with representatives from industry who were likely to become members. A prospectus was prepared and distributed within ceramic industry and a proposal was submitted to NSF. The proposal was approved by NSF to start the center 1 July 1982. The Center for Ceramic Research (CCR) was officially established in Aug 1982 with a five-year grant of $710,000 as “seed money” from the NSF and $30,000 a year contributions from each member company.

CCR was the first advanced technology center established at Rutgers. Dr. John B. Wachtman of the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) became the first director in Jan 1983. Dr. Niesz took over the responsibilities of Director in 1994, and Professor Richard Haber currently directs the Center.  Under Professor Haber’s leadership, the Center has grown in size and scope and is now call the Ceramics, Composites, and Optical Materials Center, or CCOMC.

The first Industrial Advisory Committee meeting held 9-10 Dec 1982 was attended by eight industrial companies (Carborundum, Celanese, Corning, Dresser Industries, GTE, IBM, J&J, Western Electric) and Sandia Laboratories where research theme areas were presented by the faculty. Seven companies indicated their intent to join effective 1 Jan 1983 for period of 3 years. CCR was awarded $1M in State funds in Jan 1984 by the Governor’s Commission on Science & Technology to purchase the newest state-of-the-art instruments, inaugurating a research partnership among State and Federal governments, industry and the University. That same year the Commission designated the CCR as an Advanced Technology Center. The following year an additional $1M grant was given to CCR for equipment purchases. In Nov 1984 the voters of the State approved a referendum providing $90M for the development of high technology industries. $9M of that money was granted to CCR for construction of a new building.

Ground was broken on 10 Mar 1987 on Busch Campus for the construction of a $10M CCR, a 55,000 sq. ft. building, which houses 40 research labs and 21 offices for faculty, staff, and graduate students. The $10M came from the State ($9M), the Rutgers Fund for Distinction and the US Dept. of Education ($0.5M each). The groundbreaking ceremony was conducted by Dr. M.G. McLaren, Dr. J. B. Wachtman, director of the CCR, and Dr. Edward Bloustein, president of Rutgers Univ. with the aid of a ceramic shovel especially fabricated by Coors Porcelain Co. for the occasion. Others attending the ceremony were Dr. Niesz (pres.-elect ACerS), John Moore (dep. Dir. NSF), John Garnier (Chair of CCR Industrial Advisory Committee), William Baker (Vice Chair NJ Commission on Sci & Tech), and Edward Cohen (Exec. Dir. Commission on Sci & Tech). The dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting was held in October 1988 to officially open the new building.

In Feb 1998, by approval of the Board of Governors, the name of the Center was changed to The Malcolm G. McLaren Center for Ceramic Research.

Because of the success of the CCR, several industrial and government organizations suggested that a similar center was needed in the optical fiber field. Professor Richard Lehman wrote a comprehensive proposal for “A Center for Fiber Optic Materials Research” that was circulated in the spring of 1984 to industrial companies involved in optical waveguide development and production. Due to the efforts of Professors Lehman and McLaren, funding was successfully obtained from the State of New Jersey through their newly established Commission on Science and Technology [NJCST]. 

Hence, the Fiber Optic Materials Research Program was initiated and the first meeting, held in April 1986, was attended by 14 companies. A $1.65M grant from Johnson & Johnson in April 1986 for biomedical research in optical fibers further strengthened the program.  An optical fiber draw tower was donated by Thomas and Betts and strong interest in the program was expressed by regional industry and it was clear that a nationally known name was needed to grow and lead the Program.  Dr. George Sigel, Jr., of the Office of Naval Research, became the program director in September1985.  Under Dr. Sigel's leadership, with Professor Lehman acting as associate director,  9 major corporations joined the program at $50,000/year and 6 small businesses at $20,000/year. The new 25,000 sq ft $7M Fiber Optics Research building, constructed with NJCST funds, was dedicated on 24 Oct 1989 and occupied in 1990. The FOMRP cooperative research program was discontinued in 1996, although research continues on an individual contract basis.

A New Jersey Center of Excellent in Polymer Science was commenced with NJ State funding in 2002 under the direction of Professor Lehman and Professor Nosker.  This program was initially based on the successful development of immiscible polymer blends and their use as structural materials in rebuilding military and commercial infrastructures.  The program continued to develop that technology but has also expanded considerably into new technologies.  In 2015 the Center has expanded its research to biomaterials and graphene based composites.  The Center is noted for its success in developing commercially viable technologies, and indeed the licensing revenue from this center is greater than the licensing from any Rutgers engineering technology, ever.