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News | July 20, 2015

Air Force seeks to advance materials knowledge through Materials Science and Engineering Data Challenge

By Holly Jordan Materials and Maufacturing Directorate

In an effort to acquire new materials knowledge from existing sources, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has teamed with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation to sponsor the Materials Science and Engineering Data Challenge, an initiative to tackle materials science and engineering challenges through the analysis of publicly-accessible digital data.

The Materials Data Challenge was developed to advance the goals of the Materials Genome Initiative, a plan introduced by the White House in 2011 to guide the nation's efforts in cutting time and costs in bringing new materials and manufacturing products to market. 

The Challenge is an "outside of the box" approach to materials research.  Instead of taking the traditional approach of relying on new experiments and simulations, challenge participants are asked to scour existing data sources and apply advanced analysis techniques to arrive at new advances in materials science and engineering knowledge.

By employing this unique approach, AFRL and its partners hope to exploit a relatively untapped source of knowledge in the materials community.  While advanced data analysis has been applied to sciences such as biology and astronomy, it has not yet been fully exploited by materials researchers because of its complexity.  However, this complexity can be advantageous as well.  Given the proper incentive and through the use of the most advanced analytical tools, researchers could uncover previously hidden material insights and solutions.

"With this challenge, we're hoping to demonstrate new ways to aid materials scientists and engineers to find new, promising materials compositions much more quickly, or provide new insights into complex materials behavior that has been challenging to explain by other means," says Dr. Chuck Ward, AFRL Integrated Computational Materials Science and Engineering Lead.

Ward says the benefits of this novel approach are many.  He says that through this challenge, AFRL hopes to promote good data stewardship practices within the scientific community.  With readily-accessible data, materials researchers can save costs associated with redundant testing, have benchmark data that can serve as a baseline for modeling and simulation, and take advantage of tools developed elsewhere within the research community to gain new insights not possible through human inspection.

A number of external entities have stepped up to aid the challenge by offering resources and support.  Among these are the scientific journal Materials Today and partner HPCC Systems, which are offering training and high-performance computation time to three teams; publisher Springer, which is opening its SpringerMaterials database for contestants and providing lifetime access to the winners of the Challenge; Citrine Informatics, which is offering access to its database as well as free housing for any new data; and the Materials Accelerator Network, which has created a resource page to provide links to data resources and data mining tools in support of the Challenge.

To take part in the challenge, interested participants are asked to submit a written research report in a format suitable for a peer-reviewed scientific publication.  Multiple winners will be awarded, with the top awardee to receive $25,000. 

The Challenge is open through March 31, 2016.  Interested parties can visit and search "Materials Science and Engineering Data Challenge" for more information and submission form.