June 4-5, 2024 | 101 Davis Hall, UB North Campus | Buffalo, NY

About the Symposium

This annual symposium is dedicated to the late Erich Bloch, former director of the National Science Foundation who helped endow the Department of Materials Design and Innovation at UB. The symposium is part of the MDI Summer Institute, an extra-mural program of UB’s Department of Materials Design and Innovation that supports a broad range of outreach activities to promote research and education platforms in materials design. This year's conference theme is from molecules to neighborhoods.

Materials Innovation: From Molecules to Neighborhoods

The urgency in addressing grand challenges in energy, health, and the environment demands innovative solutions and adaptive strategies for a sustainable, resilient future. As we move close to surpassing critical thresholds, hastening a tipping point for planetary health, advances in materials science will play an important role in revitalizing and reinforcing planetary boundaries. However, materials innovation must take place in conjunction with advances across all aspects of human, technological, and physical systems for holistic and enduring impacts. 

This year’s symposium will delve into these interconnected issues, with speakers examining transformative approaches unfolding across diverse sectors. The common theme across these examples is the role of AI in driving these innovations. We will conclude the symposium by exploring AI’s potential to enable transformative solutions, acknowledging both the unprecedented opportunities that it affords as well as its limitations.

Group of attendees from previous year's event standing outside.

About Erich Bloch

photo of Erich Bloch.

Erich Bloch (January 9, 1925 – November 25, 2016) was a German-born American electrical engineer and administrator. He was involved with developing IBM’s first transistorized supercomputer, 7030 Stretch, and mainframe computer, System/360. He served as director of the National Science Foundation from 1984 to 1990.

Bloch, the son of a Jewish businessman and housewife, lost his parents in the Holocaust, survived the war in a refugee camp in Switzerland and immigrated in 1948 to the United States. He studied electrical engineering at ETH Zurich and received his bachelor of science in electrical engineering from the University of Buffalo.

Bloch joined IBM after graduating in 1952. He was engineering manager of IBM’s STRETCH supercomputer system and director of several research sites during his career. In June 1984, Ronald Reagan nominated Bloch to succeed Edward Alan Knapp as director of the National Science Foundation. The same year, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. In 1985, Bloch was awarded one of the first National Medals of Technology and Innovation along with Bob O. Evans and Fred Brooks for their work on the IBM System/360.

After stepping down as director of the National Science Foundation, Bloch joined the Council on Competitiveness as its first distinguished fellow. The IEEE Computer Society awarded him the Computer Pioneer Award in 1993 for high speed computing. In 2002, the National Science Board honored Bloch with the Vannevar Bush Award. He was made a Fellow of the Computer History Museum in 2004 “for engineering management of the IBM Stretch supercomputer, and of the Solid Logic Technology used in the IBM System/360, which revolutionized the computer industry.”

In 2014, Bloch donated $1.5 million to the University at Buffalo to establish the Erich Bloch Endowed Chair for the new Department of Materials Design and Innovation.