Brown University to host 'Materials by Design' conference

Last June, President Obama announced the Materials Genome Initiative, an ambitious effort to assist American companies to develop advanced materials at twice the speed as currently possible and at a fraction of the cost. The proposal stems in part from the startling losses in employment and technology that have beset the U.S. manufacturing sector and is intended to reposition America as a leader in producing advanced materials from safer, lighter vehicles to solar cells as cheap as paint. In a new funding request for next fiscal year, Obama seeks more than $100 million to continue the initiative.

Hoping to capitalize on the momentum, Brown University has organized a conference on March 29, 2012, to explore synergies and research opportunities in advanced materials. The all-day gathering, called "Materials by Design," features talks and discussions by leading innovators and scientists in industry, academia, and the federal government.

The meeting takes place on the Brown campus at the Salomon Center for Teaching, on the College Green. An agenda, list of speakers and other information is available online.

Cyrus Wadia, assistant director for clean energy and materials research and development in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will give the plenary address. He will talk about how advanced materials are essential to economic security and human well-being.

"The Materials Genome Initiative will speed the discovery and development of many of those materials, and I will explain why the federal government cannot by itself ensure that America remains the leader in this important sector and why success will depend on a wide range of stakeholders and efforts, including regional efforts like those at Brown University," Wadia said.

Other speakers and panelists will explore:

  • new materials for automobiles, aerospace, energy conversion/storage, microelectronics and medical devices;
  • emergent computational and experimental approaches;
  • strategies for sharing, storing, and searching materials data;
  • best practices for industry/university/government collaborations.

"Brown's hosting of this meeting highlights the important role that the University can play in building strong research initiatives in this area," said Clyde Briant, vice president for research. "The focus on the Materials Genome Initiative is an area where Brown already has great research strengths and one that should help us build partnerships with many other industries and universities."

"Brown engineering's unique interdisciplinary culture is ideally suited for producing new breakthroughs in advanced materials," said Lawrence Larson, dean of engineering. "These breakthroughs often occur at the boundaries between traditional disciplines, like materials science, mechanical engineering, or electrical engineering. We look forward to developing exciting new collaboration opportunities that will result from this conference."

The Materials Genome Initiative is connected to a larger call announced by Obama last summer to enlist industry, universities, and the federal government to invest in emerging technologies that will create manufacturing jobs and enhance U.S. competitiveness. Earlier this month, the president also asked for $1 billion to create a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, to fund up to 15 regional hubs of manufacturing excellence.

"I'm calling for all of us to come together - private sector industry, universities, and the government - to spark a renaissance in American manufacturing and help our manufacturers develop the cutting-edge tools they need to compete with anyone in the world," Obama said in a speech last summer. "With these key investments, we can ensure that the United States remains a nation that invents it here and manufactures it here and creates high-quality, good-paying jobs for American workers."

The Materials Genome Initiative would direct funding to the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The initiative will fund computational tools, software, new methods for material characterization, and the development of open standards and databases that will make the process of discovery and development of advanced materials faster, less expensive, and more predictable.

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