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Major Gift Launches Advanced Materials Center

an image of an explosion
August 3, 2016

A new Advanced Materials Center has been created at UMD, thanks to a generous donation from Kurt and Beth Heikkila.

News Release — For info contact Lori Melton,, 218-726-8830.

The University of Minnesota Duluth and (UMD) its Swenson College of Science (SCSE) and Engineering are pleased to announce the creation of the UMD Advanced Materials Center (AMC). The new Advanced Materials Center will catalyze innovative research, student learning, and stakeholder partnerships in an interdisciplinary, cross­departmental initiative in the emerging field of materials science, in which UMD has already established itself as a regional leader.

Beth and Kurt Heikkila standing by their mantel

Donors Beth and Kurt Heikkila

The creation of the UMD Advanced Materials Center is made possible by a generous gift from Kurt and Beth Heikkila of Marine on St. Croix, Minn. This gift will fund the launch and on­going operations of the center. Kurt Heikkila, a UMD 1979 Master of Science in Chemistry graduate, has extensive experience with composite research and materials science. The home of the AMC will be in the new Chemistry and Advanced Materials Science (CAMS) Building, which is listed as a top priority in the bonding request of the University of Minnesota and is also a high priority in the Governor’s and the Senate’s proposed bonding legislation.

“It is our interest to create a center where students can work on a new area of industrialization and apply what they learn in their career.  I believe that 3D printing, microelectronics, new materials in basic industries will drive this areas of teaching and research. Advancement in design of these products is requiring materials exhibiting physical properties available at a low cost...these materials do not currently exist.  New composites meet these unrealized expectations. The Center will enable the technological advancement of products at a state and national level,” said Kurt Heikkila.

The Heikkilas founded Tundra companies, a group of Minnesota businesses specializing in research, development and production of unique particle­polymer materials. Based on technology collaboratively developed with UMD faculty member Robert Carlson and colleagues, the Tundra Composite Division creates composites used in the construction industry and in consumer products such automotive, fishing, and ballistic applications among other product lines. One of their leading products is a stainless steel composite used to balance automobile wheels as a replacement for lead weights, which is marketed through 3M and is rapidly replacing lead in automobiles.

Carlson, a UMD chemistry and biochemistry professor, is a leader in the design and synthesis of particle coatings and continues to partner with Heikkila and Tundra on new materials and product development. Carlson will provide leadership for the new AMC and has been named the inaugural director. "It has been exciting to work with Tundra Companies in the development of new technology that will have a direct benefit to society,” said Carlson. “The gift from Kurt and Beth Heikkila to establish the Advanced Materials Center will be a catalyst for innovative academic programming and for continuing productive relationships with regional industry."

AMC priorities for the first year will include developing a strategic plan and goals with the help of academic and industry leaders in materials science. The comprehensive plan will include initiating a grant program and beginning the approval process for a materials science Masters program in conjunction with the existing Materials Science undergraduate minor. The program will work closely with regional businesses to develop innovative materials science solutions to their technical and product needs. 

Materials science encompasses several approaches. One approach is to develop new materials through chemistry. A second approach is to develop new composites from existing materials. A third approach is how to use these materials in new ways, such as 3D printing technology. UMD’s new center will be engaged in all three approaches but has particular strengths in new composites using existing materials and in 3D printing and other applications of materials science, which is also the focus that Heikkila has taken at Tundra.

“Kurt and Beth Heikkila are providing a tremendous opportunity for our students, faculty, and the regional business community to position ourselves as regional and national leaders in materials science through this generous gift, and we are extremely grateful,” said SCSE Dean Joshua Hamilton. “This will greatly accelerate our materials science initiative, and recognizes the laboratory innovations and product applications that Bob Carlson and others at UMD have already made in this exciting field, as well as our strong industry partnerships.”