Materials Genome Initiative To Ignite Pace Of Manufacturing Breakthroughs

By: | September 6th, 2013

Scientists and researchers at MIT took notice of the “fountainhead” known as the “Human Genome Project” (HGP) and its deliverables, spin-offs and benefits to the Bio-Pharmaceutical Industry and decided they wanted a game-changing database of their own. The “Materials Genome Initiative” (MGI), was conceived and orchestrated to create a massive database of compounds and their properties providing a systematic way of standardizing methodologies used in materials research.

The impetus was the realization rapid development of new products was more vital than ever before to manufacturers in the competitive global technology horse-race. MGI was funded in 2011 with an initial investment of $63 million.

Database To Unify Materials Science Information

With tens of thousands of known compounds in the physical world, all made from just 118 pure chemical elements, materials science is a long history of mixing and combining compounds in an attempt to create, among others, lighter and stronger materials. But this has often been a haphazard, hit-or-miss approach unsuitable to today’s world.  A full-accounting of all materials and their properties was needed.

MGI is allowing scientists to supercharge their activities, to dally less and deliver more. With a new database of materials available to scientists across the world the pace and accrual of knowledge will quicken, cutting project times.

The Origin of MGI

MIT professor Gerbrand Ceder, a materials scientist, realized the exponential growth of computing power could help increase the development of new materials in a way similar to that being carried out with human DNA.

To date the team has computerized over 35,000 inorganic compounds including minerals and metals with varying amounts of elements such as carbon. Ceder expects a complete inventory by 2017 though the task is a hefty one as compounds have many properties such as strength, density, energy, stability, and corrosiveness all of which must be understood through computer modeling.

Supercomputer Simulations

The MIT team and other universities are now working with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California to help simulate how materials behave in nature. Questions such as how products bend, break, fail, fault, rupture, split, fragmentize, malfunction, splinter, collapse, corrode or become damaged are being answered through the brute force of supercomputer power.

Before MGI, the accepted method of materials research and development was the sharing of information through monolithic technical journals where information was often incompletely shared over “turf protection” issues. For example, the now ubiquitous material known as Teflon was invented in the 1930’s but was not commercialized until the 1960’s. This type of counterproductive “backbiting” won’t disappear but it should become less of an impediment in the future.

Commercial Applications

According to Vincent Chevrier, a product development engineer at 3M, he and his colleagues use the MGI database on a weekly basis to determine what materials to use in their new lithium-ion batteries. This has led to improvements in the operation and durability of cell phones, tablets and laptops.  This is just the beginning.

David Russell Schilling

David enjoys writing about high technology and its potential to make life better for all who inhabit planet earth.

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