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Northwestern-Argonne Institute Co-Directors Announced

Peter Voorhees, Pete Beckman launch focus on Materials Genome Initiative

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May 16, 2012 | by Megan Fellman
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 Peter W. Voorhees

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Pete Beckman

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have appointed Peter W. Voorhees, the Frank C. Engelhart Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern, and Pete Beckman, director of the Exascale Technology and Computing Institute at Argonne, as co-directors of the Northwestern-Argonne Institute of Science and Engineering.

The institute, established last year, brings together top scientists and engineers -- Northwestern faculty and students and Argonne researchers -- to collaboratively attack key problems in energy, nanoscience and advanced scientific computing. As the institute evolves, faculty and scientists from the two institutions will tackle a large suite of problems of common interest across the life, physical and social sciences and engineering.

With the appointment of the directors comes an expansion of the institute to include significant initial focus on cutting-edge materials research in support of President Barack Obama’s Materials Genome Initiative for Global Competitiveness, which seeks to build a national infrastructure for data sharing and analysis for scientists and engineers designing new materials.

One aim of the Northwestern-Argonne Institute’s efforts is to strengthen Chicago’s regional “innovation ecosystem” by linking experts in every aspect of advanced materials science and providing them with direct access to the world’s most advanced tools for materials discovery and characterization. 

“Bringing together Northwestern’s extensive expertise in materials and nanotechnology research with Argonne’s strengths in materials research, large-scale scientific computing and world-class instrumentation will allow the Northwestern-Argonne Institute to develop the programs that will help bring the vision of the Materials Genome Initiative to a reality,” Voorhees said.

Beckman and Voorhees will work together to enhance the experience of the next generation of scientists and engineers being trained in Northwestern’s classrooms. They also will support and expand existing research programs, from solar photovoltaics and lithium-ion batteries to high-performance computing; develop new research efforts; promote collaborations between Argonne and Northwestern; and streamline access to facilities. 

“The institute links the very best from academia with the best from the open science Department of Energy labs to create dream teams of scientists to solve key problems facing the nation,” Beckman said. “One of the key strengths of this relationship with Northwestern is that its top-ranked engineering school, along with its outstanding science departments, brings new talent and collaborations.” 

Voorhees is a computational materials expert whose research employs theory, simulation and experiment in areas from nanotechnology and energy to four-dimensional microscopy. Beckman is a supercomputing expert who has designed and built software and architectures for large-scale parallel and distributed computing systems. 

“We look forward to expanding the Northwestern-Argonne Institute, an already successful partnership,” said Julio M. Ottino, dean of Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. “Computational materials has a long history at Northwestern in both education and research, and by combining our strengths in materials science, chemistry and nanotechnology with Argonne’s facilities and talent, we are poised to help solve global challenges.”

The Northwestern-Argonne Institute offers opportunities for experiential learning to undergraduates and facilitates co-supervision of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows between Northwestern faculty and Argonne scientists. The joint initiative also enables Argonne’s scientists and engineers to hold faculty appointments at Northwestern and will streamline access to facilities. 

“Northwestern and Argonne have a long history of productive, collaborative research in materials science, the life sciences and chemistry,” said Northwestern Vice President for Research Jay Walsh. “Our faculty and students are excited to be collaborating with Argonne scientists and engineers to further the national Materials Genome Initiative and accelerate the development of new products and processes that will help us respond to challenges in energy, national security, health care and other areas of societal need.”

Argonne Director Eric D. Isaacs announced the expansion of the institute’s collaborative efforts at a meeting of science and technology leaders at the White House on Monday.

“As co-directors, Pete Beckman and Peter Voorhees bring vital and complementary expertise to the new Northwestern-Argonne Institute, which promises to have a real and lasting impact on materials science,” Isaacs said. “Their leadership will help provide the tightly knit combination of computation and materials expertise that President Obama envisioned last year when he announced the Materials Genome Initiative.” 

The computational materials effort at Northwestern involves faculty in nearly all the science and engineering departments on campus. It spans from algorithm development for quantum mechanical calculations of materials properties to the design of high-temperature superalloys using thermodynamic databases.

Computational materials design is deeply embedded in the educational effort at Northwestern as well as in an undergraduate materials design curriculum, begun nearly 15 years ago, and a master’s degree certificate in integrated computational materials engineering now being developed. 

Northwestern faculty members currently are working with companies such as Dow Chemical Company, Ford Motor Company and The Boeing Company to design advanced materials. In addition, a Northwestern University spin-off company whose focus is the computational design of materials, Questek Innovations, is working with Argonne to design lightweight automotive materials.

As the nascent Northwestern-Argonne Institute ramps up its activities, the initial emphasis on materials research will engage a variety of disciplines, including computer engineering, materials science and engineering, chemistry and physics.

The initiative will take full advantage of the advanced instrumentation at Northwestern, such as the J. B. Cohen X-Ray Diffraction Facility and the Northwestern University Atomic and Nanoscale Characterization Experimental Center. Faculty and students also will have access to Argonne’s remarkable facilities, including the Advanced Photon Source, which produces the most brilliant high-energy X-rays for research in the Western Hemisphere, and the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility.

As the institute grows, new initiatives in others disciplines are anticipated.

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