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November 3rd, 2011

With ‘Materials Project,’ DOE and MIT launch new materials properties search engine

Published on November 3rd, 2011 | By: pwray@ceramics.org




The details on this are a little skimpy at this point, however the DOE caught my attention this afternoon when it announced that a “first-of-its-kind” online search tool for materials researchers is now available, especially because the agency is going as far as saying it will operate “like a ‘Google’ of materials properties.”

DOE is calling the new service the “Materials Project” and it is linked to the Materials Genome Initiative’s efforts to accelerate the research, development and deployment of new materials.

The new search tool is apparently the result of joint work between the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and MIT.

The DOE news release says:

With the Materials Project, researchers can use supercomputers to characterize properties of inorganic compounds, including their stability, voltage, capacity, and oxidation state, which had previously not been possible. The results are then organized into a database that gives all researchers at DOE’s national labs free access. This database already contains the properties of more than 15,000 inorganic compounds, and hundreds of more compounds are added every day.

Already, scientists are using the tool to work with several companies interested in making stronger, corrosion-resistant lightweight aluminum alloys, which could make it possible to produce lighter weight vehicles and airplanes. Scientists have also already successfully applied this tool for prediction and discovery of materials used for clean energy technologies, including lithium ion batteries, hydrogen storage, thermoelectrics, electrodes for fuel cells, and photovoltaics.

Now, despite what is said above, I suspect the DOE intends for this tool to be freely available to a group far broader than just researchers at DOE’s national labs.

Also, although its not specifically spelled out in the release, two things appear to be going here, both of which are related to a great pre-existing MIT project led by Gerbrand Ceder. (We’ve covered some of the work at Ceder’s lab in the past.)

Ceder’s project began as an effort to achieve high-throughput computational analysis of lithium-ion battery cathode materials, and in the course of this work he and his colleagues started using the term “Materials Genome” well before the DOE and the White House began discussing (at least publicly) the broader MGI. However, in a nod to the MGI, the work Ceder initiated has been renamed to the “Materials Project.”

Yes, that would be the same Materials Project the DOE is referring to. Apparently, the original Materials Genome group developed a solid database and set of analytical tools that could be generically extended beyond the initial scope of the Li-ion battery research. (I would love to know if the broader purpose of the first group all along was to use the Li-ion work to test the genome concept, or whether it was an afterthought based on the success they experienced with the tools.)

Regardless, there have been several developments. For example, as noted above, the Materials Project now has the Berkeley Lab as a partner, and the MP blog also mentions the University of Kentucky as a partner.

Second, the blog reports, “The site has been completely redesigned with a new database infrastructure, with more accurate materials data than before.”

Finally, the Li-ion battery work continues, but has been partially broken out via a separate Li-ion Battery Explorer.

The Materials Project offerings are free (with registration), but a test-drive demo version is also available.
MP also offers several apps, including:
  • A phase diagram app;
  • A reaction calculator; and
  • A structure predictor.
Besides the Materials Project blog, you can track the developments related to MP (and comments from the community) on its Facebook page.

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