By Amanda Campanaro
Materials Science and Engineering Professor Rampi Ramprasad recently attended the fifth year anniversary event of the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) hosted by the U.S. White House. Among the accomplishments recognized at the event were the outcomes of the UConn Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), a collaboration of five universities lead by UConn’s team of researchers including Professor Ramprasad of MSE, Professor Gregory Sotzing of Chemistry, and Professor Yang Cao of Electrical Engineering.
The UConn MURI was funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR)—one of the research arms of the Department of Defense—and is aligned with the Materials Genome Initiative, announced by President Obama in 2011 as a means of accelerating materials discovery. In five years, UConn’s team of researchers, along with their collaborators at Columbia University, Penn State University, RPI and the University of Akron, has combined high-throughput computational screening, informatics, and experimental synthesis and testing to develop a set of new organic and organometallic polymer dielectrics with enhanced properties compared to materials now in use. This materials discovery effort is described in the MGI Accomplishments and Technical Highlights document as “an excellent example of how the MGI is being harnessed to collaboratively design new materials”.
“Historically, materials discovery largely happened by trial and error,” Professor Ramprasad says. One of the main charters of the MGI is to accelerate the materials discovery process by encouraging team-work between people from multiple synergistic backgrounds, and using computations, data mining, and theory to screen and guide the experimental phases of the project. The primary objective of UConn MURI research program was to design new classes of polymeric materials with high dielectric constant and high breakdown strength, suitable for application in high voltage, high energy density capacitor technologies.
Capacitors store less energy than batteries, but charge and discharge energy much faster. “The goal of our project is to increase the amount of energy stored in a capacitor, while still maintaining the speed of charging and discharging,” says Professor Ramprasad. New materials discovery for capacitors is important for the future of multiple technologies ranging from defense applications, such as the all-electric ship, to civilian applications, such as hybrid cars.
“We can claim that we have a number of new promising energy storage capacitor materials that did not exist before the program started,” says Professor Ramprasad. Their findings have been recently reviewed in the journal Advanced Materials (Adv. Mater. 2016, 28, 6277–6291).
“Our collaborative effort has shown that the MGI paradigm can lead to useful outcomes, and could potentially be applied to many other applications,” says Professor Ramprasad. As discussed earlier this year in an UConn Today article, Professor Ramprasad and his research team have developed data-driven methods that can “scan millions of theoretical compounds for qualities that would make better solar cells, fibers, and computer chips.” These methods, models and data have been made accessible to the public. MGI is a model that emphasizes the sharing of knowledge across disciplines and universities.
As to the barriers involved in collaborative research, Professor Ramprasad says, “There were challenging moments in the initial phase of the project. For people from different backgrounds to reach a common point where we understood each other’s challenges and true strengths was critical for the team to work well.” Finding an equilibrium was their turning point.
“To be a part of this project was a great honor. To see that the work we do on the computer can be realized in practice is a rewarding experience.”