Timeline History of the LRSM

The following timeline has been constructed to show the importance of the LRSM in academic, interdisciplinary, materials research over more than half a century. It’s genesis is to be found in the USSR’s launch of the first space vehicle, Sputnick, in 1957, which put the USA behind in the race into space.  Essential to this race was the development and understanding of new materials and so the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, DARPA, an arm of the Department of Defense, issued an RFP for interdisciplinary materials research early in 1960. The University was one of three successful grant recipients, along with Cornell and Northwestern, and thus the LRSM was created in 1960. This timeline illustrates some of the most important advances made in materials research at Penn over the last 60 years of continuous funding, first by DARPA and, after 1973. by the NSF. Foremost among these has been the award of 5 Nobel prizes to our faculty and former students with, hopefully, more to come. Research within the LRSM has led to advances in many areas of materials, ranging from amorphous metals to quasicrystals, conducting polymers, nanomaterials, and, more recently, the unique field of topological insulators.

LRSM Directors

Under ARPA Funding, designated a Materials Research Laboratory, MRL.

1960 July 1-Sept. 15, Norman Hixon, Engineering, Temporary Director (Deceased)

1960-66, John N. Hobstetter, MSE

1966-69, Louis A. Girifalco, MSE

1969-71, Eugene R. Nixon, Chemistry

1971-2, Charles D. Graham, Interim, MSE

NSF Funding

1972-77, Donald N. Langenberg, Physics

1977-82, Alan J. Heeger, Physics

1982-6, David White, Chemistry

1986-89, Gregory C. Farrington, MSE

1989-92, E. Ward Plummer, Physics

1992-2009, Michael L. Klein, Chemistry

2009-, Arjun Yodh, Physics

LRSM members elected to the National Academies

Materials Science and Engineering (originally Metallurgy)

Charles McMahon, NAE 1980
Doris Kuhlmann Wilsdorf, NAE 1994
Vaclev Vitek, NAE 2006
Dawn Bonnell, NAE 2013
David Srolovitz, NAE 2015
Christopher Murray, NAE 2018


Robert Schrieffer, Nobel Prize, 1972
Eli Burstein, NAS 1979
Doug Scalapino, NAS 1991
Paul Steinhardt, NAS 1998
Alan Heeger, NAE 2002, Nobel Prize, 2000
Tom Lubensky, NAS 2002
Paul Chaiken, NAS, 2004
Ward Plummer, NAS 2006
David Weitz, NAS 2010, NAE, 2016
Charles Kane, NAS 2014
Andrea Liu, NAS 2016
Gene Mele, NAS, 2019


David Chandler, NAS 1995
Ahmed Zewail (student of Robin Hochstrasser) Nobel Prize 1999
Alan MacDiarmid, Nobel Prize 2000, FRS 2003
Hideki Shirakawa, Nobel Prize 2000Michael Klein, FRS 2003, NAS 2009
Timothy Swager, NAS 2008
Marsha Lester, NAS, 2016
Christopher Murray, NAE 2018

Chemical Engineering

Eduardo Glandt NAE 1996
Ray Gorte, NAE 2018
John A. Quinn, NAE 1978


Dennis Discher, NAE 2012

Biochemistry and Biophysics

Bill DeGrado, NAS 1999


Breakthrough Prize in Physics

Gene Mele and Charles Kane, Physics, win the Breakthrough Prize in Physics


Gene Mele and Charles Kane, Physics, win the Breakthrough Prize in Physics for their pioneering work on ‘Topological Insulators.’

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Continued Funding



The Penn MRSEC is funded for another 6 years (2017-2023, $22.6 Million), marking continuous funding of the LRSM for 63 years – starting in 1960!


Almanac article

The Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology

The Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology


Opening of the Singh Center for Nanotechnology.


Almanac article

Topological Insulators

Quantum Spin Hall Effect

Gene Mele and Charles Kane, Physics, predicted the ‘Quantum Spin Hall Effect’ and established the field of ‘Topological Insulators.’

Alan Heeger, Alan MacDiarmid, & Hideki Shirakawa win Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Alan Heeger, Alan MacDiarmid, & Hideki Shirakawa

Alan Jay Heeger, Professor of Physics, University of Pennsylvania,  1962-82, Director of the LRSM.


Alan Graham MacDiarmid, Professor of Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania, 1956-2007, Member of the LRSM


Hideki Shirakawa, Post-doctoral Fellow, Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania , with Alan MacDiarmid, 1976-79. Member of the LRSM.


The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2000 was awarded jointly to Alan J. Heeger, Alan G. MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa “for the discovery and development of conductive polymers”.

Ahmed Zewail, Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Ahmed Zewail


Ahmed Zewail was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his studies of the transition states of chemical reactions using femtosecond spectroscopy”.


He was a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. His adviser was Robin M. Hochstrasser, and was a student member of the LRSM from 1970-75.


MRLs End, MRSECs Begin

MRLs designated Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers, NSF-MRSECs



1990’s C60 & Carbon Nanotubes

Fullerene C60 structureJack Fischer, MSE, Amos Smith, Chemistry, Charlie Johnson, Physics, Gene Mele, Charles Kane, et al, extensive interdisciplinary studies on C60 (Fullerenes) and carbon nanotubes.

Advances in Metallurgy

Pollack/Korostoff implantSolomon Pollack and Edward Korostoff, MSE pioneering bioengineering studies on dental materials leading to the establishment of the department of Bioengineering.

‘Giant’ Discovery

Eli Burstein, Physics, Discovery of ‘Giant’ Raman Scattering at Surfaces


‘Giant’ Raman Scattering at Surfaces

Liebermann and Graham

Howard Liebermann and Charles Graham, MSE, developed a new method of manufacturing thin ribbons of amorphous metal on a supercooled fast-spinning wheel.[4] This was an alloy of iron, nickel, phosphorus and boron. The material, known as Metglas, was commercialized in the early 1980s and is used for low-loss power distribution transformers (Amorphous metal transformer). Metglas-2605 is composed of 80% iron and 20% boron, has Curie temperature of 373 °C and a room temperature saturation magnetization of 1.56 teslas.[5]


Melt spinning


The Department of Metallurgy became Materials Science and Engineering.

National Science Foundation

NSF OLD logoFunding of Materials Research Labs (MRL) taken over by the National Science Foundation

Bob Schrieffer, Nobel Prize in Physics

Bardeen/Cooper/Schrieffer nobel prize

The Nobel Prize in Physics 1972 was awarded jointly to John Bardeen, Leon Neil Cooper and John Robert Schrieffer “for their jointly developed theory of superconductivity“.


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Seminal Work on Conducting Polymers


Seminal work by Alan Heeger, Physics,  and Alan MacDiarmid, Chemistry, on conducting polymers: polyacetylene, polyaniline, etc..


conductivity polymers

Advances in Physics

Theory of first-order Raman Scattering in InsulatorsEli Burstein, Physics, Raman scattering e.g. ‘Theory of first-order Raman Scattering in Insulators’  PHYSICAL REVIEW   Volume: 188   Issue: 3   Pages: 1465-&   Published: 1969

Advances in Chemistry

On N-H…S Hydrogen BondsJerry Donohue, Chemistry, studies in x-ray diffraction e.g. ‘On N-H…S Hydrogen Bonds Journal of Molecular Biology   Volume: 45   Issue: 2   Pages: 231-&   Published: 1969

Advances in Physics

Macroscopic Quantum Phase Coherence in SuperconductorsDon Langenberg, Physics, Superconductivity e.g. Determination Of E/H, Using Macroscopic Quantum Phase Coherence in Superconductors – Implications for Quantum Electrodynamics and Fundamental Physical Constants  Reviews Of Modern Physics   Volume: 41   Issue: 3   Pages: 375-+   Published: 1969

Advances in Metallurgy

rapidly solidified filamentary castingsRobert Maddin, MSE, studies on metallic glasses, e.g. “A Method of Producing Solidified Filamentary Castings,” Transactions of the Metallurgical Society of AIME, 245 (1969), pp. 2475–2476.

Advances in Physics

Mechanism for first-order magnetic transition in Fehr systemAlan Heeger, Physics,  phase transitions e.g. ‘Mechanism for first-order magnetic transition in Fehr system’ J. Appl. Phys. 40 3 1368 (1969)

Advances in Metallurgy

Cyclic stress-strain response of fcc metals and alloysCampbell Laird, MSE, Fatigue studies in metals, e.g. ‘Cyclic stress-strain response of fcc metals and alloys Acta Met. 25, 10 1621 (1967)

Advances in Chemistry

Electronic spectrum of single crystalsRobin Hochstrasser, Chemistry, studies in electronic spectroscopy e.g. ‘Electronic spectrum of single crystals of ferricytochrome-C’ J. Chem. Phys.46 7 2533 (1967)

Advances in Physics

J. Robert SchriefferRobert Schrieffer, Physics, Superconductivity e.g. Relation Between Anderson and Kondo Hamiltonians By: Schrieffer, Jr; Wolff, Pa Physical Review   Volume: 149   Issue: 2   Pages: 491-+   Published: 1966

Advances in Metallurgy

McMahon embrittlement studies imageCharles McMahon, MSE, Embrittlement studies in iron e.g. ‘Initiation of cleavage in polycrystalline iron, Acta Met. 13, 6 591 (1965)

Delaware Valley Announcer Article

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1962-64 LRSM Building Erected

construction of the LRSM building

Architects: Martin, Stewart, Noble, and Class

Shared Central Facilities established for interdisciplinary work on x-ray diffraction, electron microscopy, materials characterization, with dedicated staff members and state of the art equipment.

Robert White / Electron Microscopy Ray Dela-Veaux / Mechanical Testing Bill Romanow Sam Macri Fred Helmig / Elect. Standards

1960s Advances in Metallurgy: Charles McMahon, MSE, Hydrogen embrittlement in steel; Campbell Laird, MSE, Fatigue studies in metals, Robert Maddin, MSE, studies on metallic glasses, Norman Brown, MSE, crack propagation in polymers.

Advances in Chemistry

Electric double-layer BMD_modelJohn Bockris, Studies in electrochemistry e.g. ‘On structure of charged interfaces ‘Proc. Roy. Soc. 274 1359 55 (1963)


DOD logoCall for proposals for Materials Research Laboratories.

Profs. Burstein, Physics, Maddin, Metallurgy, Hughes, Chemistry, Hixson, Engineering, chair, win grant; one of only 3 awarded (others to Cornell and Northwestern) and the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter, LRSM, for interdisciplinary materials research was established.

Sputnik launched

SputnikUSSR launches Sputnik, first vehicle in space. USA lags in Space research requiring advances in materials.