Database could revolutionise materials research

New database could revolutionise materials research
A new online toolkit could revolutionise product development in fields ranging from clean energy to transportation and electronics, its developers say.

The exhaustive reference system has been created as part of a collaborative effort between MIT and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

It not only lets researchers look up the properties of more than 18,000 different compounds, but also allows them to virtually combine them to see what their structure will be like and how stable they will be at different temperatures and pressures.

The idea, according to MIT Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. Gerbrand Ceder, is that the site will become 'the Google of material properties', making available data previously scattered in many different places.

"It used to require months of work - consulting tables of data, performing calculations and carrying out precise lab tests - to create a single phase diagram showing when compounds incorporating several different elements would be solid, liquid or gas," Prof Ceder explained. "Now, such a diagram can be generated in a matter of minutes."

The database, says Ceder, can compute many materials' properties in real time, upon request, using the vast supercomputing capacity of the Lawrence Berkeley lab.

More than 500 researchers from universities, research labs and companies are said to have already used the new system to seek new materials for lithium-ion batteries, photovoltaic cells and new lightweight alloys for use in cars, trucks and airplanes.

"Lack of information was a real problem in materials science," Ceder noted. "When a company needed to come up with a new material for a battery or a building or a consumer product, in many cases this required starting from scratch, because even information about materials that had already been studied was so hard to locate. I really do think this will transform the way people do materials research."

Laura Hopperton

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