UChicago awarded NSF grant to train grad students in AI and molecular engineering

The University of Chicago has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for a graduate student training program focused on integrating molecular engineering with artificial intelligence to promote sustainability.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) program supports new models for graduate education training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to help students develop the skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to pursue a range of STEM careers.

With this $3 million award over five years, the NRT program at UChicago will train nearly 150 students and will include a strategic partnership with Argonne National Laboratory. The program is titled “AI-enabled Molecular Engineering of Materials and Systems (AIMEMS) for Sustainability.”

Juan de Pablo
Prof. Juan de Pablo

Juan de Pablo, Liew Family Professor of Molecular Engineering at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at UChicago, serves as the program’s principal investigator.

“The University has tremendous strengths not only in engineering, but also in computer science, statistics, data science, social science, and the humanities. Exposing students to all of those areas in a well-organized manner will give them an edge in a very competitive landscape,” said de Pablo, also the vice president for national laboratories, science strategy, innovation, and global initiatives at UChicago and senior scientist at Argonne.

A new model for graduate-level STEM training

The program will provide students a unique opportunity to train as scientists and engineers, with a focus on using molecular engineering to develop sustainable solutions.

Graduates will learn the technical and professional skills needed to lead interdisciplinary teams and solve global challenges through specially designed programs in science communication, teaching and mentoring, leadership and management, and career exploration and preparedness, as well as new courses designed to prepare students to use Argonne’s user facilities funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

By integrating molecular engineering with AI, the program could help accelerate scientific discovery and technological innovation. In a research area like sustainability, that acceleration could make a dramatic difference. The program could also make a significant mark on graduate-level education in STEM.

“The AIMEMS program has the potential to serve as a national model for training next-generation, AI-empowered graduate student leaders through strategic, inclusive partnerships among universities, national labs, and industries,” said Junhong Chen, Crown Family Professor of Molecular Engineering at Pritzker Molecular Engineering, lead water strategist at Argonne, and one of the program’s co-principal investigators.

Graduate students from schools and divisions across UChicago, including PME, the Physical Science Division, and the Social Science Division, will be eligible to apply. The first cohort of trainees will start next fall.

Co-principal investigators also include PME faculty members Paul Nealey, Brady W. Dougan Professor of Molecular Engineering and deputy dean for education and outreach; and Margaret Gardel, Horace B. Horton Professor of Physics and Molecular Engineering. Rebecca Willett, professor of statistics and computer science at UChicago, is another co-principal investigator.