The availability of large, publicly accessible digital data sets has unleashed a wave of innovation throughout numerous fields, helping solve significant problems in business, biology, and astronomy. But the potential of such data has not yet been fully realized in materials science and engineering, in part because of the wide variety of relevant properties and methods to measure and model those properties. This diversity, however, also stands to provide rich insights if the mysteries the data hold can be unlocked.
That’s why, earlier this month, Federal agencies jointly launched the Materials Science and Engineering Data Challenge, offering up to $25,000 for innovative approaches to using publicly available digital data to discover or model new material properties. The challenge prize is jointly sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and National Science Foundation, and submissions will be accepted until March 31, 2016.
This first challenge from the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) provides an avenue for the materials science community to demonstrate how significant advances can be made by mining and analyzing existing materials data sets (without doing new measurements), and thereby unlock some of those mysteries. And these advances should further inspire scientists and engineers to make more of their data digitally available and easily accessible to the public.
In response to this challenge and building on last February’s call for more open access to materials data, Federal agencies are working with the public and private sectors to make more data publicly available and easier to find and use, making new commitments, including:
As we mark the fourth anniversary of President Obama’s announcement of the MGI, I look forward to seeing how unleashing digital data can help us to achieve the initiative’s goal of discovering, developing, and deploying materials twice as quickly and at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.
Lloyd Whitman is Assistant Director for Nanotechnology at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where he is an advisor on nanotechnology and advanced materials.