Science & Research

Conference fosters innovation of materials

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, April 11, 2012

 

The School of Engineering hosted  a conference over spring break that brought together academics, professionals and representatives from the federal government to discuss the future of new materials technologies and the Materials Genome Initiative.

 The MGI, announced by President Obama last June, aims to assist American institutions and companies in the development of cheaper and more effective new materials.

Though the conference was originally called “Material by Design,” the University was contacted the night before the conference by a company claiming to own the name, said Vice President for Research Clyde Briant, so the conference remained unnamed.

“The president calls for an expansion of opportunities for American workers,” said Cyrus Wadia, assistant director for clean energy and materials research and development in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “Materials are going to be at the heart of all new technologies.” 

Wadia said he was impressed by the broad range of departments working together on material design, specifically citing the mechanical, biomaterial, applied math and physics departments. These researchers rely on computational tools, experimental tools and digital data to create new materials, Wadia said. 

“Labs at Brown are working on very important materials, but then you have to put them out there,” Wadia said. After the initial discovery and development of new materials at a university, the government’s duty is to support academic researchers in the manufacture and deployment of the product, he said.  The goal is to make technologies “two times faster, two times cheaper,” Wadia added. 

To illustrate one of the recent American successes, Wadia used the case study of the new airplane Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This airplane is 20 percent more fuel efficient than other airplanes because it uses 50 percent carbon-fire composites, an alternative to aluminum. The project has created 11,000 jobs in the U.S. and is the number one U.S. export by dollar value today, Wadia said.

But generally, the transition between academic work and product deployment is not very smooth, Wadia added. The strategy for bringing people together is to promote the development of new materials, to provide a link between academics and stakeholders and, most importantly, to foster a culture of innovation through education, he said.

“Material innovations will serve for national security, the next generation workforce, clean energy and human welfare,” he said.

Wadia underlined the importance of interagency coordination with groups like NASA. “The more coordinated you are, the more leverage you can get from the federal community,” he said.

The White House prioritizes developing academic research on new materials, Wadia said. “We are in constant communication with Brown,” he said. “We are constantly in search of new partners, and we want you to become diplomats of this initiative.”

After the event, Wadia addressed the importance of involving students in the MGI.

“The Materials Genome Initiative is an opportunity for the entire materials community to shape our next generation of materials discovery and deployment,” Wadia wrote in an email to The Herald.