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Wichita State to compete for metal-research center

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, May 10, 2013, at 11:22 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at 9:03 a.m.

Wichita State University expects to compete for a federally funded research center on lightweight and modern metals, John Tomblin, the university’s interim vice president for research and technology transfer, said Friday.

The center is one of the manufacturing research and innovation centers announced by President Obama in his State of the Union Address and would fall under the Department of Defense.

Federal officials released a request for information this week, and those interested are to respond by June 3. Tomblin characterized the current step in the process as an expression of interest and ideas of what the applicant can provide. A request for proposals seeking more details from applicants would come later.

Tomblin said the value of the grant would be in the neighborhood of $70 million.

WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research provides a model for how such a center would work, he said. NIAR has spent years developing strategies and principles for researching and testing non-metallic composite materials. Those insights will transfer to building a research center to develop lightweight titanium, aluminum, magnesium and steel alloys and metal/composite hybrids.

According to the request for information document, the center will be a consortium of government, university and industry that would develop and commercialize research conducted at the center. Private industry would contribute significant funds to the center under the government’s plan.

According to the document, defense-related uses include low-cost components and assemblies for small boats, low-cost armor, vehicle parts, and lightweight weapons systems. Non-defense applications include lightweight components for wind turbines and rail transport systems.

The competition for the center will be intense, Tomblin said.

Many big research universities could try for such a center, he said, and named Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology as examples.

“It’s a big chunk of money and the interest is going to be heavy,” he said, “especially with government research funding shrinking.”

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com.

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