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October 9, 2013

Georgia Tech Wants to Turn Big Data Into Gold

Isaac Lopez

Nicolas Flamel, a 15th century alchemist, became famous when rumors said he had made the Philosopher’s Stone, which tales say was used to turn base metals into gold. Today the Georgia Institute of Technology plans to turn big data and analytics into a modern day Philosopher’s Stone, using them together to create advanced materials. The program has just been awarded the funds to get started.

On Tuesday, Georgia Tech announced that they have been awarded $2.8 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for their new materials science project. Dubbed FLAMEL (From Learning, Analytics, and Materials to Entrepreneurship and Leadership), the program aims to train a new kind of data scientists who can create new types of materials for wide ranging applications, such as fuel-efficient vehicles and 3D printing. Using big data and analytics, the program aims to train and develop these data scientists to be able to bring new materials to market in the fraction of the time it traditionally takes (typically 15 to 20 years).

Georgia Tech says they will leverage existing programs and partnerships to advance an emerging area of research known as materials informatics, a field of study that applies the principles of informatics to materials science and engineering to better understand the use, selection, development, and discovery of materials. Between 2014 and 2019, the program aims to host 24 doctoral students in two-year traineeships that are specialty geared towards data science in the materials informatics discipline.

“The program will be transformational in bringing ‘big data’ researchers together with materials scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to quantify the microstructures that comprise materials and develop new algorithms and software for their design,” said Professor Richard Fujimoto, who leads Georgia Tech’s Institute for Data and High Performance Computing (IDH), and is the principal investigator for the grant.

The funding announcement comes in the wake of the Materials Genome Initiative – a $100M program program launched by the White House in 2011 aimed at doubling the discovery, development, and manufacturing speed of new materials. Funding for the program was split between the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the National institute of Standards and Technology.

“In the same way that the Human Genome Project accelerated a range of biological sciences by identifying and deciphering the basic building blocks of the human genetic code, the Materials Genome Initiative will speed our understanding of the fundamentals of material science, providing a wealth of practical information that entrepreneurs and innovators will be able to use to develop new products and processes,” wrote Tom Kalil and Cyrus Wadia of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) during the roll out.

The funding, says the OSTP duo, is intended to advance the development of 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.

For their part, Georgia Tech sees a big future ahead for this program as they look ahead towards the potential of the technology. While the current funding accommodates a couple dozen doctoral candidates over the next five years, the school says they are expecting the educational opportunities that arise from the program to impact hundreds of Georgia Tech students in the years ahead.

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