Partnership for Research & Education in Materials (PREM): NCCU

The overall experience of PREM students and supporting their development and success is the primary focus of Center staff.

The partnership between North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and the Penn State Center for Nanoscale Science advances institutional research and educational capabilities in materials at NCCU and strengthens the pipeline for the advancement of underrepresented minorities in STEM disciplines. The core research thrusts are: (1) charge transport in individual and coupled semiconductor nanostructures, (2) plasmonic materials for optical filter and sensor applications, (3) functionalized 2D materials for spintronic and electronic applications, and (4) seed projects on properties of nanoscale patterned ferroics and development of perovskite based multiferroic materials.

The partnership addresses a key educational challenge, manifested in the low participation of underrepresented minorities in material science. Our four-tiered strategy consists of (a) recruitment  targeted at the best and brightest high school and community college transfer students in the region by highlighting the central role of material science in the 21st century, (b) academic enrichment programs focused on materials science, (c) an innovative peer mentoring "Penn Pal" program which will pair minority participants in the MRSEC program with NCCU student participants in PREM, and (d) productive research experiences at the frontiers of material science supported by close mentoring by both NCCU and MRSEC faculty and researchers at all levels. Broad and deep links will be fostered between the PREM research thrusts and ongoing projects in the PSU MRSEC – both established IRGs and seed projects. These links will leverage the expertise and resources in the PSU MRSEC to generate important scientific advances in the short term as well as create sustainable research programs at NCCU in these four areas. The key scientific challenges that are addressed in this proposal are (a) the ability to introduce reproducible band-gaps and controllable magnetic functionality to graphene and similar 2D systems, (b) controlling optical properties of metal nanoparticle and thin films for multispectral imaging devices, and (c) characterizing carrier dynamics and uncovering new phenomena in coupled nanoscale semiconductor systems. In all cases, the facilities and expertise available at Penn State are critical enablers for the PREM resaerch effort to transition to a level where these achievements can be utilized in actual devices.

This partnership is enabling NCCU to build a sustainable material science program with a national reputation which will produce competitive students from traditionally disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds who are ready to pursue graduate programs in material science. Our joint outreach efforts, which leverage existing MRSEC programs and the strong relationships forged between NCCU, local high schools, community colleges, other local HBCUs and museums, enable us to increase public awareness of materials and increase the pool of potential participants. The three pillars represented by quality academic and research programs, broad outreach, and competitive infrastructure constitute the foundation for success.

NCCU- PSU Publications

  • Tej B. Limbu, Basant Chitara, Martha Y. Garcia Cervantes, Yu Zhou, Shengxi Huang, Yongan Tang, and Fei Yan. Unravelling the thickness dependence and mechanism of surface-enhanced Raman scattering on Ti3C2Tx MXene nanosheets. Journal of Physical Chemistry C. 2020, 124, 17772–17782. DOI: 


  • Tej B. Limbu, Basant. Chitara, Martha Y. Garcia Cervantes, Jason D. Orlando, Shalini Kumari, Qi Li, Yongan Tang, and Fei Yan. Green synthesis of reduced Ti3C2TMXene nanosheets with enhanced conductivity, oxidation stability, and SERS activity. Journal of Materials Chemistry C. 2020, 8, 4722-4731. DOI: Back Cover. 


  • Jason D. Orlando, Ethan Kahn, Cindy Y. Wong, Yin-ting Yeh, Tej B. Limbu, Basant Chitara, Ana L. Elias, Mauricio Terrones, and Fei Yan. Ultrastrong Raman enhancement on gold nanoparticle-decorated transition metal dichalcogenides nanosheets for molecule detection. Journal of Analytical Science. 2019, 35, 811-816. DOI: 

Bold indicated PSU faculty/staff/students.


NCCU-PSU Interchange


Prior to the NCCU PREM proposal being funded, three NCCU faculty came to visit Penn State and to establish research connections.

  • Three NCCU faculty visit PSU pre-submission. 
  • Dreyer and Purdy-Drew visit NCCU at PREM launch


NCCU PREM inagural year kicks off with undergrad and masters students coming to Penn State for their 10-week summer REU program. Faculty exchanges start with NCCU faculty coming to Penn State for characterization of samples and Penn State faculty visiting NCCU to deepen faculty research connections. 

  • 5 students (2 M.S.) visit PSU over summer to kickoff the inagural summer for the Penn Pals Program. 
  • Vinod visits PSU several times for characterization, attends Graphene and Beyond workshop. 
  • Mallouk visits NCCU for a seminar and a guest lecture in two chemistry classes. 
  • Crespi, Hudson, and Terrones visit NCCU for research discussions with faculty and students.


Three NCCU students attend Penn State's Grad School STEM Open House to learn more about PSU's grad programs in the College of Science, Engineering and/or Earth & Mineral Science.

  • 5 studnets (1 M.S.) visit PSU over summer. 
  • Wu attends Graphene and Beyond workshop, submits a sample proposal 2DCC. Student works in Robinson lab next summer. 
  • Hudson and Dasgupta host mentoring workshop at NCCU & guest lecture in physics. 
  • Yan's postdoc Chen visits Schaak's lab at PSU. 
  • Agueda, Ramirez and Acosta attend STEM Open House.


Engagement and exchange between continues to grow between the two Univiersities. Kleyeser Agueda Lopez an NCCU and MRSEC grad student returns to NCCU to talk about his experience as a grad student and how he got where he is at Penn State. 

  • 4 students (1 M.S.) visit PSU over summer.
  • Mathews visits NCCU for mini-workshop on personal statements and how to take advantage of research opportunities, with email followup (PREM & beyond)
  • Kleyeser Agueda Lopez (NCCU alum & MRSEC grad student) visits NCCU to speak with students. 
  • Olabode Oladele attends PSU STEM Open House. 
  • Acosta admitted to PSU Chemistry graduate program.
  • Crespi gives research seminar following EAB meeting. 


Deepen the research relationship between NCCU and PSU by having three NCCU faculty come to visit Penn State to give MRSEC seminars, meet with Penn State faculty,  and perform analysis and characterization on their samples at MRI. 

  • Wu and Yan visit PSU for MRSEC seminars, TEM work, and discussions with PSU faculty. 
  • NCCU postdoc Limbu (Yan group visits PSU for SEM,  XRD, and Raman spectroscopy in collaboration with the Mallouk lab. 
  • 4 students (1 M.S.) visit PSU over summer. 
  • Mathews visits NCCU for PREM workshop on personal statemetns. Met with NCCU students individually to discuss personal statements (PREM and non-PREM students) and followed up with email. 
  • Taylor visit PSU for MRSEC seminar.  


"In response to Covid-19, we made a rapid pivot for our Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) from an in-person 10-week research experience to a virtual research preparation and professional development program, which was designed to prepare science and engineering undergraduates and master’s students for their entrance into the workplace or their continuation in a graduate program. The overarching goal of this virtual experience was to develop and hone professional skills that are often not explicitly taught in science and engineering classes." - Preliminary abstract for the 2021 American Society for Engineering Educators (ASEE) Conference.

  • Crespi and Mathews attend NCCU EAB meeting. 
  • Vinod, LaBennett, and 2 students attend PSU-TFI - Mission: Materials Science expansion workshop. 
  • Vinodgopal, Taylar, Chavis attend PSU for sample measurements (postponed due to Covid)
  • 6 students (3 M.S.) participated in PSU's virtual REU: Professional development and Research Preparation (10 weeks, via zoom). 
  • 4 students and 2 faculty developed an online demo for Mission: Materials Science website (via zoom).
  • Mathews continues to work with NCCU PREM students following the end of the REU to read and review personal statements (2 students), and resume (1 student) via email and zoom. 
  • Mathews presented at Taylor's Polymer Conference: "The Well Written Personal Statement" via zoom.