Materials Genome Initiative

Goal is to expedite development, commercialization of advanced materials.

30 June 2016
Eva Campo

Optics and photonics engineers, with their unique capabilities in developing novel materials for and solving problems in healthcare, energy, manufacturing, computing, and other areas, are playing a crucial role in the five-year-old Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) in the USA.

The initiative was launched in 2011 as part of a broad effort by President Obama to revitalize American manufacturing. Its aim is to reduce the cost and reduce by half the 10 to 20 years or more it typically takes between discovery and/or development of advanced materials and their use in commercial products. These products include efficient, high-temperature turbine engines, long-lasting batteries, biocompatible replacement joints and implants, and many sophisticated optoelectronic devices that enable our digital world and maintain national security.

The program has grown into a collaboration of 18 government agencies, with funding of more than $250 million for material science research and the creation of an infrastructure to store, analyze, and share huge amounts of data on material properties, behaviors, experiments, and computational modeling.

Grants from such agencies as the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Energy, and Department of Defense have supported more than 500 scientists at government labs, companies, and universities worldwide.

Just as the international scientific community collaborated on the Human Genome Project to identify the basic building blocks of the genetic code and share the database to enable new medicines and disease treatments, scientists working on the MGI are creating new tools to catalog and share all the data needed to quickly design new high-tech materials.

Courtesy of White House

One initial success story for the initiative was the development of a dynamic random-access-memory (DRAM) chip for the iPhone5, introduced by Apple in 2012. Instead of the usual trial-and-error process to fabricate and characterize the materials in the new chip, which might have taken 18 months, Elpida Memory (now Micron Technology) and Intermolecular reduced the development time to six months.

The key to the short timeline has been attributed to high-throughput tools and screening processes developed by researchers involved with the MGI.

High-throughput experimentation and computation, or using materials libraries to quickly determine the properties of various materials used in manufacturing, is at the heart of the Materials Project, a core program of the MGI.

The Materials Project began as a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and now involves partners at more than 10 institutions worldwide. Its evolving databases contain information on more than 66,000 inorganic material compounds, according to information on

Also under the umbrella of the MGI is the NIST-sponsored Center for Hierarchical Materials Design (CHiMaD).

CHiMaD is a consortium of several universities, national labs, and industry partners that is focusing on organic and inorganic advanced materials in fields as diverse as self-assembled biomaterials, smart materials for self-assembled circuit designs, organic photovoltaic materials, advanced ceramics, and metal alloys.

NIST has invested $25 million in CHiMaD to create the databases needed to enable proliferation of a materials-by-design strategy and materials discovery through industry partners.

Designing new devices and materials means that the interactions and interfaces among materials must be studied as well. Surfaces of crystalline materials in advanced electronics and photonics, for example, often require precision optical control during the manufacturing and doping process.

This is where optics and photonics technologies play an important role because the components of modern devices must be fully integrated and their properties and behaviors well documented.

Widely sharing standardized data on open platforms avoids duplication of efforts, enables rapid prototyping, and paves the way toward more efficiently designed devices.


The US Army Research Lab and the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, among others, are offering research grants that will explicitly aid the MGI while others support the MGI indirectly by embedding materials research opportunities in “broad agency announcements.”

Some ongoing and/or anticipated opportunities for optics and photonics researchers are:

  • DMREF: The NSF program, Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future, has $30 million in grants for materials research, ranging from $750,000 to $1.6 million.
  • Open Calphad: This international collaboration of scientists and researchers is focused on creating and updating open-source software and databases for thermodynamic calculations, based on the Calphad (Calculation of phase diagrams) approach.
  • National Network of Manufacturing Innovation: Of eight manufacturing institutes created through public-private partnerships since the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act was signed into law in late 2014, several will impact topics pertaining to materials in the realm of optics and photonics. The MGI is expected to closely interact with the Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NextFlex), American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics), the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing (IACMI), and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

Read more about the MGI.

SPIE Senior Member Eva Campo is a faculty member at University of Texas at San Antonio and Bangor University (UK) where she founded the Laboratory for Matter Dynamics–SPIE Senior Member Eva Campo is a faculty member at University of Texas at San Antonio and Bangor University (UK) where she founded the Laboratory for Matter Dynamics. She has been closely involved with the Materials Genome Initiative in the US and is collaborating with the James Grote group at the US Air Force Research Lab and others in a study on graphene, the 2D atomic crystal material made up of carbon atoms that is being touted as a “wonder material.” Campo has a PhD in materials science and engineering from Lehigh University (USA) and is chair of the SPIE conference on Nanoengineering: Fabrication, Properties, Optics, and Devices.

Campo and her research colleagues are scheduled to present a keynote paper at SPIE Optics + Photonics in August on “Materials by design to inform fabrication of graphene-based field-effect transistors.”

Recent News
Sign in to read the full article
Create a free SPIE account to get access to
premium articles and original research
Forgot your username?