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The White House held a special Materials Genome Initiative workshop this week that involved about 170 representatives of industry, academia, national labs and government, and the event served as a background for several significant new announcements related to the MGI.
A post on the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy blog (OSTP is responsible for coordinating MGI activities) divided the new developments into five categories: Broad Industry Partnership by Over 60 Institutions; Regional Partnerships to Accelerate Work; Open Access Made Available to Millions of Molecules; New Tools for the Classroom; and Predicting the Properties of Nanomaterials.
The administration released a comprehensive “Progress on Materials Genome” fact sheet, which is well worth reading, but here are a few of the highlights:
• Harvard University, via the school’s Clean Energy Project (led by the Aspuru-Guzikto) says it is using IBM’s World Community Grid to accelerate the testing of millions of new, simulated organic molecules to conduct and store solar energy. Harvard says it also will be working with Wolfram Research to make the data associated with these molecules publicly available by the end of 2012. David Turek, IBM’s vice president of High Performance Computing Scalable Systems, has some comments about IBM’s MGI plans here.
• Members of the University Materials Council have pledged to pursue innovative new methods to train future materials scientists and engineers in ways that are consistent with the MGI vision. The 33 schools that are members of the UMC say they will be developing new courses on the use of computation tools and new degree programs.
• Autodesk is making new simulation technology and a library of properties for more than 8000 materials available via ‘the cloud.’ Apparently, the technology/library initially will be available to the company’s design customers, but Autodesk says it is committed also to making this new materials information available to the US educational community for use in the classroom. Autodesk recently released “Simulation Workshop,” a product that is described as “a free online source of education modules that can be used to train the next generation of engineers in advanced materials use.” (Simulation Workshop was developed in cooperation with Pacific Northwest National Lab, Oak Ridge National Lab and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.)
• Lockheed Martin says it will establish an industry-led, multisector “Carbon Nanostructures Consortium.” According to the company, the consortium will focus on accelerating the development of transformational carbon nanostructure-enhanced materials for energy, aerospace and electronics.
• GE Global Research says it will convene a Summit on Additive Manufacturing in July to drive faster adoption of this technology. GE Global Research says it will follow the summit by launching a lecture and workshop series specifically devoted to MGI beginning this year. GE also says it is sponsoring post-doctoral experts in the field on the topics of the MGI. The company says it hopes its efforts help to target “high priority material problems of national importance” and contribute to building a community that emphasizes workforce training and embraces a more collaborative approach to developing advanced materials.
• Argonne National Lab is working in collaboration with Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and private sector companies to create an “MGI Ecosystem” in the Chicago area. The vision is to develop cross-disciplinary teams with access to an important asset: ANL’s new “Mira” 10-petaflop supercomputer. Northwestern would leverage its strong materials research faculty and ties with the advanced materials industry and will work to expand the Northwestern-Argonne Institute for Science and Technology. UC’s strength would be offering collaborations with its new Institute for Molecular Engineering.
• Like ANL, Berkeley National Lab will be leveraging its supercomputer. The lab says its National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center will be tripling supercomputing hours for the already successful Materials Project. Lab officials say this will amount to 40 million hours by 2013.
• The National Nanotechnology Initiative, which has been something of a model for MGI, says it will be working to ”stimulate the development of models, simulation tools, and databases that enable the prediction of specific properties and characteristics of nanoscale materials. Also, approaches, protocols, and standards developed through MGI activities may be initially explored, tested, or evaluated specifically for nanoscale materials under NNI efforts.”
• The DOE is evaluating proposals for up to $12 million (from FY 2012) “of research in predictive theory and modeling for materials and chemical sciences. This research will combine computational tools, experimental tools, and digital data to advance materials and chemical processes; provide user-friendly software that captures the essential physics and chemistry of relevant systems.”
• In parallel, the DOE’s Office of Science says it is launching new “SciDAC” (Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing) partnerships among materials and chemical researchers, applied mathematicians and computer scientists to develop new algorithms and computational approaches. The OS already funds the Computational Materials and Chemical Sciences Network of interdisciplinary teams that develop and test new software of relevance to materials and chemical processes.
• DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy says it is using MGI principles as part of a $14 million Lightweighting effort in its Vehicle Technologies and the Fuel Cells Technologies programs. The EERE says the latter has already screened millions of unique material compositions computationally.
• NIST says it is now developing “(1) standards and tools for the representation and interoperability of materials data, whether from simulation or experiment; (2) techniques and standards for the interoperation of modeling systems operating at multiple length and time scales and techniques; and (3) tools for the quality assessment of models, simulations, and the materials data generated from them.” NIST’s Advanced Materials for Industry program says it will also participate in a series of workshops to identify and develop MGI measurements and standards.
• NSF notes that it has launched its Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future program in support of the MGI. The DMREF program, led by its Mathematical and Physical Sciences and Engineering Directorates, will fund “transformative approaches to accelerate materials discovery, development and manufacturing, and to advance fundamental materials understanding so that material properties can be predicted, optimized, and ultimately controlled through design.” The first DMREF awards are expected this summer and NSF intends to continue the program in upcoming years.
• One challenge for all MGI efforts is whether the infrastructure to handle MGI-related data can keep up with the various materials exploration initiatives. Along these lines, the NSF says it is also funding a project it calls Cyber-infrastructure for the 21st Century (CIF21), plus a program called Core Techniques and Technologies for Advancing Big Data Science & Engineering.
• The DOD’s Office of Naval Research has awarded basic research projects to “improve the prediction and optimization of materials properties through new approaches to modeling material characteristics.
• The Army Research Laboratory recently launched two basic-research collaborative enterprises “to design materials suitable for the unique requirements of the nation’s soldiers.” One is a consortium led by Johns Hopkins University to develop new materials “designed to protect soldiers in extreme dynamic environments.” The other will by led by the University of Utah to develop “electronic materials through multidisciplinary and multi-scale modeling.”
• The Air Force Research Laboratory will be awarding a university center of excellence “focused on developing the fundamental science of computational and experimental methods common to all structural materials.”
I am particularly happy to see that the announcement from the University Materials Council regarding how to prepare a new generation of scientists, engineers and IT professional in how to support and use Big Data in materials development.
However, one glaring piece that seems to be missing are proposals to offering new training in modeling and computational methods, and data management for early- and mid-career professionals in materials science, a significant problem identified by a federal panel just a few weeks ago. (This topic deserves much longer discussion, but I do wonder if some of this could be accomplished by developing quality online coursework based on some of the emerging models, such as the new Coursera and Udemy initiatives.)
Despite some doubts I expressed yesterday, the “Big Data” webcast did indeed happen today (although it appeared that were no media in the audience except for a representative of Science, and presumably he was there because the webcast was staged at the AAAS auditorium.)
That’s the end of my complaining, because I found it to be a pretty good and informative webcast (no word on when/if it will be available for replay), and here are a few takeaways about the consensus that is forming, at least at the federal level:
• An overview: In virtually every field of science and engineering, a large number of data sets are being generated. The key challenges now are 1) being thoughtful about accumulating and storing the data; 2) moving from data to knowledge; and 3) moving from knowledge to action.
• Data is being accumulated in structured, semistructured and unstructured forms.
• The data present enormous challenges to sharing and/or moving (many terabytes of genome data are being moved to cloud storage with the help of Amazon).
• The data present enormous challenges to glean knowledge. Where are the software tools and algorithms? Are they scalable? What data is best analyzed by machine learning? Can data be converted for better human interpretation (e.g., advanced visualization techniques)?
• Data present statistical challenges to separate noise from knowledge.
• Yes, NSA and the intelligence community probably are way ahead on this.
• There is already a major problem with having people trained in advanced data management, interpretation and statistical analysis, and that means both next generation and current generation of professionals must be trained. (Ironically, it was noted that things come full circle because there are suddenly huge real-time data sets coming out of high-level and free education projects like Khan Academy and Stanford University’s experiments that will revolutionize our understanding of learning and accelerate education on worldwide scale.)
Many of the speakers used the platform to announce major new initiatives and awards. Here are some of the ones coming out of DOE, NSF, DOD and DOD/DARPA:
SDAV Institute takes aim at improving the nation’s ability to extract knowledge and insights from large and complex collections of digital data. Led by the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the SDAV Institute will bring together the expertise of six national laboratories and seven universities to develop new tools to help scientists manage and visualize data on the Department’s supercomputers, which will further streamline the processes that lead to discoveries made by scientists using the Department’s research facilities.
“Big Data” is a new joint solicitation to advance the core scientific and technological means of managing, analyzing, visualizing, and extracting useful information from large and diverse data sets. This will accelerate scientific discovery and lead to new fields of inquiry that would otherwise not be possible. NIH is particularly interested in imaging, molecular, cellular, electrophysiological, chemical, behavioral, epidemiological, clinical, and other data sets related to health and disease.
NSF is also:
Department of Defense — Data to Decisions Program to Provide $250 Million Annually Including $60 million for New Research Projects, to
There’s a lot of overlap in the projects being announced, so one would expect a lot of interagency sharing. Also, it strikes me as being underfunded, but one would expect that there are several deep-pocket private sector partners who willing to put up matching funds or in-kind resources (such as the Amazon example, above).
The White House has also prepared a “Big Data Factsheet” (pdf) outlining all of the current and new work at the federal level that is underway.
Okay, I have to confess that I don’t really know if the Materials Genome Initiative is going to be discussed in the event I am about to describe. As a matter of fact, I am not sure exactly what’s going to be discussed in what may be one of the worst-publicized-but-possibly-most-interesting-online-science-events this year, but I will be shocked if the MGI isn’t frequently mentioned.
Here is what I know for sure, based on an obscure notice titled “Challenges and Opportunities in Big Data” on Science360 Live, an online science project of the NSF:
On Thursday, March 29, 2012, from 2-3 pm ET, federal government science heads from OSTP, NSF, NIH, DOE, DOD, DARPA and USGS will outline how their agencies are engaged in Big Data research. Their remarks will be followed by a panel of thought leaders from academia and industry, moderated by Steve Lohr of the New York Times. The event will take place at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.
If you are interested in watching the webcast live, apparently all you have to do is click on the Science360 Live link above at the stated time. I suspect a recorded version will be made available in a few days.
I first learned about this event this morning after reading a Gigaom blog post. The post claims that the speakers will include John Holdren, assistant to the president and director of OSTP; Subra Suresh, director of NSF; and Marcia McNutt, director of USGS. Gigaom says the event is sponsored by OSTP; a CTOsite post (the only other original post I could find on this event) says it is sponsored by both OSTP and NSF.
I tried to fact-check this by searching through the media advisories from the White House, NSF and the OSTP pressroom and blog, but couldn’t find any announcements, whatsoever. But this thing sounds legit — and potentially interesting. I think the CTOsite has it right when it says, ”[T}his will be a GREAT event for those who would like to learn how to explain Big Data concepts. This type of evolution can be very helpful to enhancing cross-government sharing of lessons learned and concepts. I believe this will be very positive. This initiative will discuss R&D activities. Although at a high level, federal R&D focus is usually expressed in terms of frameworks and broad goals, these goals normally translate into budgets so the research community outside of the government should really pay attention.”
The MGI, I think, is one of the few topics that the group will be able to explain with relative ease, and that the probable audience can get their arms around. Besides, I seriously doubt the group wants the discussion to go in the direction of talking about the Hugely Big Data story (NSA’s new yottaflop-scale “Matrix” project), the spin-offs of which are actually going to help enable MGI and other enormous modeling and data management projects.
Last Monday, President Obama delivered his FY’13 budget proposal to Congress, and today, OSTP chief John Holdren is appearing before the House’s Committee on Science, Space and Technology to offer comments about the civilian science and technology pieces of the proposed budget.
The OSTP has posted a summary (pdf) of the R&D requests in the budget. In a concurrent press release (pdf), the OSTP outlines seven administration goals for “building and fueling America’s engines of discovery”: to expand the frontiers of human knowledge, promote economic growth with a focus on manufacturing, cultivate domestic clean energy, improve healthcare outcomes, address global climate change, manage environmental resources and strengthen national security.
The FY’13 budget requests $140.8 billion for federally supported R&D, which represents an increase of 1.4 percent ($2.0 billion) over the FY’12 enacted level. In today’s testimony (pdf), Holdren says the proposed budget is “designed to ensure that America will continue, in the President’s words, to ‘out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world’.”
Three agencies have been identified as critical to fulfilling the nation’s mission to maintain and advance its economic position: the NSF, DOE and NIST. (Holdren describes them as “jewel-in-the-crown” agencies — an ironic description for agencies that are tasked with driving the economy of a country founded on militant rejection of all things regal, but I digress.) Holdren’s testimony notes that the administration has been working to continue efforts begun under the Bush administration (as part of the America COMPETES Act) to gradually double the budgets (pdf) of these three agencies. The Budget Control Act of 2011 will slow, but not halt, that priority.
Culling through the R&D summary posted on OSTP’s website, provides a glimpse of how things may shake out for the materials science community based on the proposed R&D budgets for agencies that fund the largest chunks of materials science research:
National Science Foundation — $7.4 billion, an increase of 4.8 percent over 2012 enacted levels.
Department of Defense — $71.2 billion for R&D, a $1.5 billion decrease from 2012. The funding request includes $11.9 billion for early-stage science and technology programs, $2.8 billion for DARPA and maintains basic research (6.1) at $2.1 billiion.
NASA — $9.6 billion for R&D on an overall budget on $17.7 biliion, a 2.2 percent ($203 million) bump for R&D, but probably not enough to bring NASA technology up to levels recently recommended by the National Research Council.
DOE — $11.9 billion, an 8.0 percent ($884 million) increase in R&D over 2012 enacted levels. ARPA-E is written in for $350 million, and the DOE budget targets $290 million specifically “to expand activities on innovative manufacturing processes and advanced materials.”
NIST — $708 million for NIST’s intramural labs, a tidy 13.8 percent over 2012 enacted levels, reflecting the administration’s efforts to double its budget. The agency is home to the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership ($128 million request) and the new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program ($21 million request).
Department of Homeland Security — $729 million, up 26.3 percent from enacted 2012. The huge increase is to restore cuts imposed in 2012. DHS efforts touch the materials community through R&D on nuclear materials, explosives detection and chemical/biological response systems.
Department of Education — $398 million. This R&D funding addresses the president’s goal of training 100,000 STEM teachers in the next decade and developing educational strategies.
The R&D budget includes budgets for three multi-agency initiatives, including the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NNI member agencies “focus on R&D of materials, devices and systems that exploit the unique … properties that emerge in materials at the nanoscale.” The requested budget is for $1.8 billion, an increase of $70 million over the 2012 enacted budget.
Finally, the contentious issue of hydraulic fracturing (”fracking”) is getting some attention in the budget with collaborative funding streams through DOE, EPA and the Department of the Interior to “understand and minimize the potential environmental, health, and safety impacts of natural gas and oil production.” That’s a broad-ranging mission statement, but materials science has a role to play, for example, with engineered proppants.
For play-by-play commentary, stay tuned to the AAAS website, “R&D Budget and Policy Program.” They do a good job tracking developments and slicing out the parts that are relevant to the science and technology communities. Since 1976, AAAS has issued a comprehensive analysis of the federal R&D budget. Last year it was available in May, so look for a similar report about FY’13 in a few months. The OSTP website, of course, stays abreast of budget developments.
In November Congress approved three parts of President Obama’s $3.5 trillion budget request for FY 2012, which began Oct. 1, 2011.
Why only three? To make the budget job more manageable, the budget is divided into 12 chunks, which the Congress considers in no particular order. A story (see article summary) in Science by Jeffrey Mervis (Nov. 25, “First Spending Bill Giveth—And Taketh Away”) breaks down what the approved-to-date budget means for the STEM R&D community.
The overall $3.5 trillion request included $148 billion for federal support of R&D, but that is spread across about two dozen federal entities. November’s three “minibus” appropriations funded the departments of Commerce, Justice, Agriculture, Transportation and Housing, as well as the independent agencies NSF, NASA and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.
While the behemoth budgets for DOE and DOD have yet to be worked on, these first three approvals bode well (enough) for the materials science R&D community. The budgets of NIST (a Commerce agency), NASA and NSF all saw increases over FY 2011. NIST’s research programs received a nice 12% increase (from $507 M to $567 M), while NSF got only a 2.5% bump (from $6.86 B to $7.03 B, but that’s enough to fund more than a few research programs).
In a surprising outcome, the OSTP, which had a puny $6.6 M FY’11 budget, took a 32% hit and received only $4.5 M for FY’12. According to Mervis’ story, this seems to be a tit-for-tat move on the part of Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), who has been squabbling with OSTP over the Obama Administration’s interactions with China regarding high-technology sectors, including space.
Mervis quotes Charles Vest, president of the US National Academy of Engineering, “OSTP sits at the center of the federal government’s thinking and planning for science and technology that are at the absolute heart of what our nation has to do to remain competitive and to lead in the 21st century.”
What it means for OSTP and its 90 employees is unclear. In the article, OSTP’s director, John Holdren, says the smaller budget “will mean a lot of belt tightening and, inevitably, some reduction in the range of domains in which OSTP maintains a major presence.”
Since they were unveiled last summer, OSTP has been the leading voice for new White House initiatives that are of keen interest to the materials science and engineering community—the Materials Genome Initiative and the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.
Cyrus Wadia, OSTP assistant director for clean energy and materials R&D, said in an email, “We do not foresee the budget cut having an impact on the MGI.” He may be right. Both the MGI and the AMP were envisioned as multi-agency, decentralized efforts, which should work to OSTP’s advantage as it adjusts to doing its job with a whole lot less.