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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 Metallurgy Division SUMMARY The panel reviewed 20 of the Metallurgy Division’s projects and engaged the division staff in discussions of the MSEL project evaluation process. Overall, the programs reviewed are well conceived and executed, responsive to NIST’s mission, and of high scientific and technical quality. The morale of the division is generally high, which may be the result of the division’s recently improved infrastructure and facilities, increased capital spending, stable core competencies, and positive outlook toward future opportunities. The division’s staff level has been steady from FY 2006 to FY 2008, a plateau after the preceding 10 years of decline. The division uses postdoctoral fellowships to recruit new hires. It should also consider initiatives that would attract more senior people. A related area of concern is a decline in knowledge and a rise in technology gaps resulting from the retirement of some senior staff. The division should develop a plan for knowledge capture and/or a succession plan either to mentor junior researchers or to hire senior researchers in critical technical areas. Many of the Metallurgy Division’s staff members are recognized both internally and externally, as is evident by the awards that they have received. The division has continued to maintain exemplary visibility through the organization of workshops at NIST, publications, and conference presentations. Overall, the staff has evinced a high level of commitment and dedication. TECHNICAL MERIT RELATIVE TO STATE OF THE ART The Metallurgy Division maintains a capable and engaged workforce devoted to achieving the goals of NIST. It is part of the NIST mission to increase innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technologies in order to enhance economic security and improve the quality of life. The division maintains a diversity of activities including both fundamental sciences and applied studies in support of these goals. The technical merit of the Metallurgy Division is high relative to the state of the art. In general, the quality of the research is excellent. Some examples of outstanding research are provided below. Particularly noteworthy are efforts to standardize and improve hardness measurement, to develop atomistic modeling in support of the development of nN-level force standard for very small loads, to develop fundamentals-based quantitative models of microstructural evolution in materials for the extraction of kinetic data from experiments, and to develop a fundamental science-based understanding of the mechanisms leading to tin (Sn) whisker formation in electronic devices. Major accomplishments include the development of SRMs for hardness testing and a complete revision of the ASTM standards for hardness testing, which accomplish the goal of improving hardness as a measure of materials properties and quality control. The nN-level force standard based on gold nanowires is cutting edge. NIST continues to lead the development of thermodynamic and kinetic databases, which will have broad applicability in all areas of materials engineering. Modeling efforts directed toward sustainable energy sources and hydrogen storage are timely and necessary. The formation of tin whiskers on lead-free surface finishes has evolved into a major reliability issue in microelectronics. Research at NIST has
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 revealed the mechanisms for whisker formation, which could lead to inhibiting it, thereby extending the service lifetimes of future components. The in situ, x-ray stress measurement capability for sheet metals undergoing deformation was exceptional. This type of measurement, which has never been done before in sheet metals, represents a breakthrough in deformation materials metrology. NIST should continue to develop this exciting technology so that it can be applied more broadly to solve practical engineering problems. ADEQUACY OF INFRASTRUCTURE The Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory’s commendable capital investment is welcomed by the division staff and will enhance the laboratory’s capabilities. The new tunneling characterization probe instrument adds to an already impressive magnetic thin-film fabrication and characterization capability. The strain measurement enhancement of the Kolsky bar technology will provide novel high-speed direct strain measurements, which are important and will be of interest to a broad range of researchers. The Lorenz microscope will provide state-of-the-art imaging capability for the Magnetics Group. The division should assess its computing needs and develop a strategy for the future. The division’s staff appears innovative and willing to deal with difficult problems. One of these, as mentioned, is the decline in staff associated with staff members’ not being replaced upon retirement. An effort should be made to hire experienced individuals and not to rely entirely on NRC postdoctoral fellowships. The staff expressed some concerns that traditional measurement expertise may disappear with future retirements. Such expertise gaps should be identified and a strategy developed to maintain important core competencies. An effort should be made to capture this experience through mentoring. ACHIEVEMENT OF OBJECTIVES AND IMPACT The Metallurgy Division is doing well in terms of meeting its objectives of establishing standards and providing technology for supporting mainline U.S. industry (e.g., automotive, aerospace, and magnetics industries). However, it appears to have a gap in its ability to develop technologies that may be disruptive. The division should consider incentives for initiating projects that have high risk but also could have high payoff. There may be opportunities for it to accomplish this by working more closely with small and medium-sized businesses. An example would be in magnetics, where spin torque devices are a potential opportunity that should be explored, as well as magnetic sensors for biomedical applications. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs may be an important way to facilitate such efforts and should be fully explored. The current project selection process is a positive development, but it probably needs to be fine-tuned to ensure that high-risk, disruptive technologies are not filtered out. In general, the materials profession lags other fields (e.g., biology, astronomy, and others) in effective use of Web technology for knowledge dissemination and collaboration. The Metallurgy Division is highly proficient at disseminating knowledge through publications, presentations, and in particular at workshops such as the diffusion workshops. It has an excellent opportunity to leverage the division’s existing activities and to be a leader in the effective use of Web and information technology (cyber infrastructures) to disseminate information (databases
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 and models). The current Web-accessible databases for thermodynamics and diffusion are excellent leading-edge examples that could be expanded. There are currently only limited sets of thermodynamic data available; however, these could be easily expanded and serve as best practices by other groups within the MSEL and within other government-supported research laboratories. The Metallurgy Division has played an important technical role in a number of high-visibility failure analyses (e.g., analysis of the World Trade Center collapse, the sinking of the Titanic, and the failure of naval structures). The work on the Titanic has led to related studies of the Ellis Island Ferry and USS Arizona wrecks in efforts to establish the practicality of salvage and a timetable for preservation activities. Considering the vast number of aging wrecks populating the nation’s waterways, the technical merit of these activities relative to the state of the art is quite high. These examples could showcase for laypersons and national leaders the Metallurgy Division’s expertise and the national need for experts in metallurgy. However, the efforts referred to here largely involved full-scale structural analysis coupled with metallurgical insights and are not tied in with other computational efforts; this appears to be a missed opportunity. The impact of these efforts could be increased by identifying underlying themes of research and how they tie in with other division research areas. This would allow the Metallurgy Division to capitalize on the high visibility that such projects provide. The use of computational materials science tools to incorporate and disseminate information and knowledge is a growing trend within the materials profession. Strengthening this activity within the MSEL and making these models available to the broader research community offer important means of increasing the impact of the MSEL. There are good examples of cross-group and cross-division collaboration in the MSEL, and there is an excellent collegial atmosphere of cooperation. However, many of the division’s major research projects are disconnected. The Metallurgy Division could increase the impact of its research through better integration of its existing expertise into some cross-group projects that would demonstrate the impact of this combined expertise. An example might be an integration of efforts in thermodynamics, kinetics, and evolution of microstructure in Pb-free electrodeposits, with (currently nonexistent) efforts at using this information to predict the key properties of solders and, in turn, structural analysis of electrical interconnects. This would make use of all of the impressive expertise in thermodynamics, phase transformations, property development, and full-scale structural analysis. Other examples might be in the use of thermal barrier coatings for improving the performance of turbine blades for power generation or in the development of magnetic sensors. A high level of innovation was evinced within the Metallurgy Division. In particular: The development of high-resolution three-dimensional chemical imaging (demonstrated in multilayer stacks) is highly innovative and the first known use of this technique on crystalline structure compensating for diffraction effects. This research has significant potential for development as a high-throughput evaluation tool for crystalline nanostructures. The measurement of stress by means of multidirectional x-ray diffraction during sheet metal forming is a highly innovative first use of this technique. It provides a new approach for characterizing of the evolution of yield surfaces required for the simulation of sheet metal forming.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 The use of depth-resolved x-ray microbeam stress measurements to measure stresses within dislocation cells is a highly creative and unique research. CONCLUSIONS The Metallurgy Division represents a unique, high-quality research effort in the development of measurement science and materials standards in selected areas of critical importance for American competitiveness. The division could enhance its effectiveness by identifying common themes to better coordinate its activities and by increasing its focus on the entrepreneurial, highly innovative sectors of the U.S. economy.