Microscopic image of human-made finely layered spherical objects.

Advanced Materials

Since the 1950s, the U.S. National Science Foundation's investments in materials research have yielded countless breakthroughs, including smart electronics and sustainable plastics.

From prehistoric stone tools to modern-day silicon semiconductors, materials have served as critical building blocks for the technologies that people depend on every day.

NSF invests in the discovery of new materials and processing methods that can unlock innovations across a wide range of sectors — such as medicine, agriculture, electronics, manufacturing, energy and national security.

A graduate student displays a microscope slide holding an array of more than 300 microparticles

What is materials science?

Materials science and engineering explores the basic structure, properties and behavior of materials — down to the molecular, atomic and even subatomic levels — to create goods that benefit society.

Researchers in this field study a broad array of materials, ranging from the familiar, like silicon, glass, concrete, metals and plastics, to the exotic, like biomaterials and wholly new "designer materials" that are configured one atomic layer at a time.

Brought to you by NSF

NSF's decades of sustained investments have ensured the continual advance of materials research. Pioneering work supported by NSF includes:


NSF-funded research expanded the capabilities of hydrogel materials, now used in the production of contact lenses, wound dressing and hygiene products.


From their liquid crystal displays to their lithium batteries, NSF-supported research was essential to the creation of many materials found in smartphones.

Metal-organic frameworks

From absorbing toxic chemicals to extracting water from desert air, NSF's investments in metal-organic frameworks have only just begun to uncover the many uses of these materials.

Self-healing materials

NSF-funded research has yielded self-healing materials that can repair microscopic damage and prevent catastrophic failure, with applications in medicine, road construction, aerospace engineering and more.


NSF's investments in metamaterials — engineered materials that exhibit properties not found in nature — are producing new and higher-performing optical, electronic and acoustic devices: from fiber optics to solar panels and antennas.

What we support

Fundamental research

We invest in fundamental research to understand, design and synthesize new materials — from nanomaterials to biomaterials, ceramics to metals.

Translating knowledge to practice

We invest in the application of commercially viable materials that push the frontiers of knowledge, address pressing societal challenges and enable economic growth.

Education and workforce development

We invest in the creation of educational tools, materials, fellowships and curricula to enhance learning and foster an advanced materials workforce.

Partnerships to accelerate progress

We partner with other federal agencies, industry and nonprofits to share data, tools, expertise and other resources; strengthen workforce development; and translate research into products and services that benefit society.

Division of Materials Research: Topical Materials Research Programs

Supports materials research and education in the following areas: biomaterials, ceramics, condensed matter physics, electronic and photonic materials, metals and metallic nanostructures, polymers, and solid state and materials chemistry.

America's Seed Fund (SBIR/STTR)

Supports startups and small businesses to translate research into products and services, including advanced materials, for the public good.

Condensed Matter and Materials Theory

Supports research and education on hard and soft materials and related phenomena; the development of associated analytical, computational and data-centric techniques; and predictive materials-specific theory, simulation and modeling.

Mechanics of Materials and Structures

Supports fundamental research on the behavior of deformable solid materials and structures under internal and external actions.

Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials

Supports research and education opportunities between minority-serving institutions and NSF's Division of Materials Research-supported centers and facilities to increase recruitment and degree attainment by those most underrepresented in materials research.

Additional resources