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U. Mich. establishes $12.3M center to accelerate design of advanced materials with open-source computational tools

With an $11-million, five-year grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) Materials Genome Initiative (earlier post), the University of Michigan is putting in another $1.3 million to establish a DOE Software Innovation Center called the PRedictive Integrated Structural Materials Science Center, or PRISMS.

Researchers at the center will build a set of integrated, open-source computational tools that materials researchers in academia and industry can use to simulate how proposed materials might behave in the real world. The software tools will provide a radical change from the traditional trial-and-error approach, John Allison, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Michigan.

Trial and error managed to double the strength of aluminum alloys since the Wright brothers’ time, but it took 80 years.

Materials have been a defining technology for humans since the beginning— the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and now we have the Silicon Age. Going forward, we need new materials to solve enormous engineering challenges around critical issues such as global warming. We don’t have as much time as we used to.

PRISMS will give us a quantitative means to figure out which materials knob we should be turning. If I were studying fatigue of metals, for example, and I wanted to understand how to improve that property, I’d want to quantify or simulate how a certain microstructural feature might affect it.

—John Allison

A material can be viewed at different magnification levels revealing important features, as illustrated in this example of an aluminum alloy casting for an automotive engine block. At each level, or length scale, the features can be changed by variations in the alloy composition or manufacturing processes. These features combine to influence the properties in unique and complex ways. For example, the stress at which a material starts to deform, known as the yield strength, is affected by the atomic structure as well as microstructural features at the nano-level and at the microstructural level. Image credit: Courtesy of John Allison Click to enlarge.

More than 160,000 engineering materials exist today, and most are mixes of between six and 10 different elements. These materials can have different properties at various scales, from that of the atom, up to the microstructure, to the end product, whether that’s a laptop battery, solar cell or car door. It’s challenging for the field to predict how each different combination of elements will behave at each of these levels, and that’s why Allison says materials science hasn’t kept pace with industry needs.

We’re starting to fall behind because the product development and manufacturing fields now have computational tools to design new aircraft components and manufacturing approaches in days, but for materials it still takes much longer. We’re losing opportunities to really advance new products. The country and the companies that figure this out will have a major competitive advantage.

The ability to integrate knowledge across length scales and different technical domains has been a major challenge but the needs for this are now very clear. We believe that the integrated computational tools our team will be developing will serve as a scientific core for a transformational new approach to materials development.

—John Allison

The PRISMS team of 11 faculty from across the College of Engineering and the School of Information will demonstrate their new approach on magnesium, the lightest-weight metal, which has applications in the auto, aerospace and electronics industries.

In addition to Allison, the faculty involved in the PRISMS Center are: Samantha Daly, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Krishna Garikipati, professor of mechanical engineering; Vikram Gavini, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Margaret Hedstrom, professor and associate dean for academic programs at the School of Information; H. V. Jagadish, the Bernard A. Galler Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; J. Wayne Jones, professor of materials science and engineering; Emmanuelle Marquis, assistant professor of materials science and engineering; Veera Sundararaghavan, assistant professor of aerospace engineering; Katsuyo Thornton, associate professor of materials science and engineering; and Anton Van der Ven, associate professor of materials science and engineering.


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