Dr. Peter Voorhees, Co-Director, CHiMaD, Materials Science and Engineering, Northwestern University

Last month, the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition released a first-of-its-kind report that took a data-driven approach to identifying research strengths that are well positioned to support innovation and competitiveness for Illinois business. Based on strong research productivity, commercialization potential, and cluster development, advanced materials was one of five technology areas called out by the report for further academic-industry partnership development. Illinois ranks highly in research publication impact in the fields of chemistry, chemical engineering, and materials science (see table below). Harnessing this expertise to drive innovation and technology development has been a key focus of Illinois universities, industry, and government.


ISTCCatalyst_October2014_chart2The Roadmap also notes that Illinois is a national leader in in computationally-aided materials design. Illinois’ excellence has been recognized by the Obama administration’s $250 million Materials Genome Initiative (MGI), which seeks to bring innovative new materials into commercial applications faster and at a lower cost than currently possible through the integration of computation, materials databases and novel experiments. This novel computational-aided approach has been shown to reduce the time and money spent on product development.

The Center for Hierarchical Materials Design (CHiMaD), sponsored by National Institute for Standards and Technology, is a recent highlight of the State’s involvement with the MGI. The principal partners of this Illinois-based consortium are the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University as the lead. The Center also involves the Northwestern-Argonne Institute for Science and Engineering (NAISE), The Computational Institute, a collaboration between the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, as well as the Evanston-based pioneering materials design company, QuesTek Innovations. CHiMaD will lead the development of radically new approaches to hierarchical design of both organic and inorganic materials of commercial importance by simultaneously utilizing physical theory, advanced computational methods and models along with materials databases.


Over the past quarter century, Northwestern University and its spinoff company, QuesTek Innovations, have pioneered and commercialized the radically disruptive technology of fully computational materials design and the rapid insertion of the designed products into commercial applications. CHiMaD will take these efforts a step further and expand the applications of computational materials design into a new range of advanced materials with uses in such industries as heavy machinery, medical devices, electronics, and defense. This will be achieved by improving the available hard-material (such as metal alloys) databases, creating new databases for soft-materials (such as polymers), leading the integration of the computational design tools into undergraduate and graduate level engineering education and building a strong community of current and future researchers through workshops and seminars. In this capacity, CHiMaD will serve as a national resource to further the goals of the MGI.

The Materials Data Facility housed at the University of Illinois National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) is another Illinois contribution to MGI. The facility will serve as a cloud-based, open source repository of materials science data created through experimentation and simulation. The pilot leverages the computation resources of the NCSA, Argonne, and the University of Chicago, accelerating the testing and development of new materials through the rapid sharing of data.

These R&D efforts position Illinois as a national and global leader in advanced materials innovation, which allow our businesses to build products faster, better, and cheaper. Initiatives like the $320 million Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute and the state-launched Illinois Manufacturing Lab provides the potential to radically transform U.S. manufacturing by reducing the time it takes to design, test and produce products using new materials. In addition, the Roadmap provides further recommendations to accelerate advanced materials commercialization and utilization by Illinois companies, positioning the state as a magnet for top talent and businesses.

Watch and Listen

The Elements of Integrated Computational Materials Engineering


Metal Fabrication Using Digital Manufacturing


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Insight Accelerator Labs
Insight Accelerator Labs develops innovative medical device technologies.  Insight Labs partners with top healthcare entrepreneurs to  help drive innovation and business growth that will have positive impacts on people’s lives. Insight Product Development and Northwestern University are hosting the second annual Chicago HealthTECH summit on October 23rd – learn more here.

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