In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to advancing high-tech research and manufacturing within our borders, saying “I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.” Support for research, development, and innovation in the fields of materials science and manufacturing is foundational to this goal, as advanced materials like those used in photovoltaic solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, and other high-tech energy-related products stand to revolutionize how we generate and store energy in everything from homes to cars to cell phones.
This week, the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Basic Energy Sciences program announced a new $12 million program for advanced research projects in materials science as part of the President’s Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) – an effort to halve both the time and money that it takes to move a new advanced material from lab to market. This new DOE program highlights the need for new, user-friendly software tools and data standards to strengthen the infrastructure for innovation of advanced materials. It also emphasizes the need for an experimentally-proven modeling paradigm that could speed the rate of discovery of new materials and shed light on their underlying physical structure and properties.
The DOE plans to allocate funds to software innovation centers and small-group research projects, as well as “glue funding,” which brings together existing research activities to create interdisciplinary projects. The program also calls for research projects that maximize the utility of existing experimental technologies such as free electron lasers and advanced microscopy. Funding initiatives such as this strengthen our Nation’s capacity for innovation in materials science, and pave the way for expansions in high-tech manufacturing industries.
Cyrus Wadia is Assistant Director for Clean Energy and Materials R&D at OSTP