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Office of the Vice President for Research

USC Researchers Take Leading Role in Materials Genome Initiative

In 2011, President Obama announced an ambitious initiative aiming to reduce the time and cost required to commercialize new materials after their initial discovery in the laboratory. In the context of this initiative, new materials are the physical substances and components that will make up tomorrow's computers, smartphones, medical devices, fuels and so on. There are a variety of economic, technological, human health, safety and other benefits to accelerating the time and reducing the cost it takes to get new materials onto the market, making this initiative as practical as it is challenging.

During its first two years, this public-private initiative, known the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI), consisted largely of theoretical groundwork. But now the MGI is moving into a more experimental phase that will require researchers generate and analyze huge amounts of experimental data, a process that the University of South Carolina's SmartState Center for Strategic Approaches to the Generation of Electricity (SAGE Center) is uniquely poised to lead.

SAGE Center researchers Jochen Lauterbach and Jason Hattrick-Simpers are among a small group of scientists selected to define the future of the MGI. Lauterbach and Hattrick-Simpers each have unique, specialized expertise in a research tool known as high-throughput experimentation (HTE), a term used to describe methods that allow researchers to conduct and gather data from many experimental tests at the same time. Use of HTE techniques allows researchers to complete many experiments and generate huge volumes of results in a fraction of the time it would take to conduct and analyze one test after another.

Drs. Lauterbach and Hattrick-Simpers have been developing HTE methods, and the software necessary to analyze the huge volumes of data they generate, at the SAGE Center for years. In fact, thanks to their specialized expertise and experience, USC is the only university in the country equipped to lead the way on the type of HTE the Whitehouse Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) envisions as key for the next crucial steps of the MGI. That's why, earlier this year, the OSTP asked them to conduct an HTE workshop for the nation's leading materials scientists and prepare a white paper that will guide the next steps in the MGI.

These plans, announced Thursday, June 19, in a release issued by the OSTP, aren't just good news for Lauterbach and Hattrick-Simpers. Having USC researchers placed at the forefront of this nationwide initiative also solidifies South Carolina's growing reputation as a global manufacturing hub, and reinforces USC's ranking as a research university on par with the nation's most prestigious and impactful institutions.