The Materials Science and Engineering Division (MSED) consists of 52 permanent technical staff members, 19 National Research Council (NRC) postdoctoral fellows, 2 NIST fellows, and 102 NIST associates. The division is located in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It was formed by combining the Metallurgy Division and the Polymers Division of the former Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory. A portion of the Polymers Division, the Biomaterials Group, was assimilated into the new Biosystems and Biomaterials Division. The mission/function statement of the MSED is as follows:
The Materials Science and Engineering Division provides the measurement science, standards, technology, and data required to support the Nation’s need to design, develop, manufacture, and use materials. In partnership with U.S. industry, other government agencies, and other scientific institutions, the division develops and disseminates measurement methods, theories, models, tools, critical data, reference materials, reference data, standards, and science underpinning the Nation’s materials science and engineering enterprise. These activities foster innovation and confidence in measurements needed to advance technology and facilitate manufacturing in industrial sectors such as energy, electronics, transportation, and the environment.” 1
The MSED consists of five technical groups and the division office. The groups are the Thermodynamics and Kinetics Group, the Functional Nanostructured Materials Group, the Polymers and Complex Fluids Group, the Functional Polymers Group, and the Mechanical Performance Group. In addition, the division plays a significant role within NIST for two cross-cutting programs: the Materials Genome Initiative and the additive manufacturing program within the NIST advanced manufacturing initiative.
ASSESSMENT OF TECHNICAL PROGRAMS
Notable work of the division includes developing new data sets and advanced models for the properties of nanostructured inorganic materials; establishing the nSoft Consortium, whose goal is to advance and transfer neutron-based measurement methods for soft materials manufacturing and which merits consideration by other MML divisions as a means of collaboration with industry and academia; the unique cruciform multiaxial mechanical test facility, incorporating a high-rate servohydraulic frame; a critical dimension measurement by the critical dimension small-angle x-ray scattering (CD-SAXS) technique for metrology of thin films in semiconductor manufacturing, reducing times for data acquisition from tens of hours to tens of seconds; a unique industrially scalable method for separating conducting and
1 NIST Material Measurement Laboratory, “2014 National Research Council Assessment of the NIST Material Measurement Laboratory-Read-Ahead Materials,” Gaithersburg, Md., June 2014.
semiconductor carbon nanotubes (CNTs); and new energy storage materials, such as next-generation electrodes for high-capacity Ni-MH (nickel-metal hydride) batteries.
Materials Genome Initiative
The NIST portion of the national Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) effort, which is less than 2 years old, is focused on developing new methods and tools that would allow integration of data, informatics, computational models, and experimental results. NIST hosted the first customized data repository for the materials community, which allowed linking of data between files, including metadata. First focus is on phase-based materials property data, allowing customers to contribute to and search for data on the NIST Internet site. Work at the MSED has been started on improved methods of data curation and ontology, enhancement of the data repository, and development of a variety of computational microstructural and molecular-based modeling tools. The goal of MGI is to reduce by half the cost and time to market of a new material. Consequently, the project requires establishing interfaces with other NIST divisions, other government agencies, and appropriate industrial sectors for data accumulation that are in the public domain and identification of which NIST deliverables would be most useful in pursuit of the MGI goal.
Additive Manufacturing Program
The newly established additive manufacturing program is off to a good start—the team has been formed, and the effort has been focused on filling a gap in the knowledge base for additive manufacturing. As a first effort, understanding the microstructural evolution of as-deposited metallic materials, which have relatively poor properties, into a high-strength structural material is essential. A similar effort will be initiated for organic polymeric materials. An important output of this effort involves understanding how the specifications of the starting material and machine processing parameters relate to a material’s performance, including what defects are added to the microstructure during processing. This understanding will allow this new manufacturing technology to advance much faster.
Thermodynamics and Kinetics Group
The Thermodynamics and Kinetics group investigates the thermodynamics, kinetics, phase transformations, microstructure evolution, and properties of materials of technological interest. The group possesses computational assets such as computer servers, storage, and workstations and has been working on a variety of computational codes. In addition, it has access to a wide variety of computational tools and techniques, such as density functional theory (DFT), for prediction of material characteristics, leveraging data from a large number of known materials. The group’s early entry into the data repository field is essential for the success of the MGI. Utilization of thermodynamic and kinetic laws and models for prediction of microstructures and phase transformations and their relations to properties has been a long-standing challenge to materials scientists, solid state physicists, and chemists. The staff has begun to address the challenge of designing new materials based on knowledge derived from experimental observations and modeling. Some of the experimental facilities accessible to the group are state-of-the-art and could be utilized on focused material design challenges, although the group is currently largely focused on metallurgy. DFT computational techniques have benefit for one-dimensional structures (e.g., graphenes and nanotubes). DFT utility for 3-D structures is more limited and requires integration with other computational tools.
Functional Nanostructured Materials Group
The Functional Nanostructured Materials Group works at the nano- and microscales to develop measurements and models that correlate chemical, electrical, and magnetic properties of nanostructured inorganic materials to their microstructure and processing. They are conducting excellent programs in magnetic materials, energy storage, and nanowires. Work is of high quality, and the equipment matches its research effort. Collaboration with leading institutions such as Carnegie Mellon, General Electric, and Seagate Technology LLC to develop nanomagnets for storage and post-CMOS complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor integration holds high promise for success. The effort on electrochemical processes for deep trench isolation of through-silicon vias is industry-driven and important to advances in the semiconductor industry. Researchers addressing functionalized magnetic nanoparticles, thin-film and bulk magnetics, nanowires, advanced batteries, and challenges in understanding electrochemical processes are on the cutting edge of technology. The development of new energy storage materials for high-performance batteries is another area of great importance, and the group has demonstrated good progress. Because of its technological importance, this area is being addressed by researchers worldwide. It would be of value to maintain a close watch on progress in other laboratories. The group’s characterization of a next generation of multicomponent, multiphase materials for electrodes in high-capacity Ni-MH batteries is an outstanding accomplishment.
Polymers and Complex Fluids Group
The Polymers and Complex Fluids Group investigates soft materials, such as multiphase fluids, gels, and composites, and their constituent components. Composites are a materials class of considerable current scientific and technological interest. For electrically conductive composite materials, this group has developed noncontact techniques for measuring conductivity in nanotube polymer composites employing microwave radiation, a technique that is very useful albeit not unique. Matrix interface interactions are a key aspect of high-performance polymer composites, and the group has attacked the issue of characterizing the interface using fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) techniques, which are well suited to such imaging studies because of the relatively short-range nature of the interactions. This provides an imaging tool for composite interfaces if appropriate dyes can be incorporated, and the approach only requires a fluorescence microscope. Fluorescence and atomic force microscopy (AFM) have been coupled through opposite-side viewing to produce fluorescence images of AFM-imaged nanostructures. This is a clever combination that could be used to study shape and structure in nanostructures. The application of the techniques for studying nanostructure composites could be particularly useful.
This group seems focused on innovative tool integration and plans on coupling Raman and other spectroscopic methods with realistic flow and deformation environments for nanoscale, in situ measurements of material structure. These are first-rate efforts to couple multiple spectroscopic and mechanical probes to study the mechanical behavior of nanostructures and structures under stress. The study of mechanical properties under high strain and extreme conditions is of substantial technological interest. The performance of advanced materials under extreme conditions is critical for many applications, and fundamental understanding is critical for the design of new advanced materials. The collaborative effort with the Mechanical Performance Group links the mechanical performance understanding of hard and soft materials, such as the study on Kevlar fiber stiffing at high strain and the work on the optimization and standardization of ballistic clay.
The group has emphasized the study of viscous flow of solutions and heterogeneous mixtures in confined dimensions. The study of size and shape of heterogeneous and homogeneous interacting additives in fluid solution and microfluidic studies is important for biomedical applications, including delivery of macromolecular therapeutics. This understanding is critical to programs like NIST on a Chip (NIST precision measurements and physical standards that are miniaturized and deployable in customers’
tools and products). There are strong connections with a number of drug and pharmaceutical companies, including MedImmune, which maintains an assignee on site to leverage the applications. For particles, velocity sectors in confined flow have been studied spectroscopically by evanescent wave activation. This is a broad-based effort in flow hydrodynamics and surface-fluid interactions with technological applications, particularly in the biomedical area.
The project for macromolecular characterization leverages the MSED’s considerable expertise on x-ray and neutron scattering and on reflectivity. The former are critical to characterization of macromolecules in solution and the latter can be applied to surfaces. The dynamic behavior of materials anchored to surfaces is critical to microfluidics, particularly for biomedical applications where surface shape and dimensional changes can influence flow and capture dynamics. This group is leveraging the NIST expertise in measurement and modeling and the NIST facilities (e.g., n-Soft) for high-energy reflectivity as a probe of surface structure.
The project on particles, tubes, and colloids has academic and industrial support. It directly addresses a key barrier to implementation of carbon nanotubes into electronic devices—the purification of the nanotubes, particularly the separation of conducting and semiconducting nanotubes using a process that could be scaled industrially. The two-phase extraction process developed in this group may solve this issue and produce a separation process that is scalable. It has led to a patent that has generated considerable licensing interest. The studies on CNT separations and CNT properties have led to more than 15 publications in a relatively short period.
Functional Polymers Group
The Functional Polymers Group addresses the electrical, chemical, and magnetic properties of nanostructured inorganic materials, including metals and semiconductors, as related to their microstructure and processing. It focuses on three general themes: transport membranes, printed and flexible electronics, and dimensional metrology. A key goal of this group is the development of a portable, stable, bright x-ray source (perhaps liquid metal jet anode) to overcome the major remaining issue hindering industrial adoption of CD-SAXS as a metrology tool. The group has made steady progress and is tied in to pattern modeling efforts with block copolymers, which may be the patterning technique of the near future. Its connection with the University of Chicago in modeling will be very helpful in this regard. The cornerstone of organic electronics rests on cost, ease and control of processing, and manufacturability. Consequently, the group’s efforts in printed and flexible electronics are focused on in situ determination and control of the morphologies of photovoltaic materials and organic transistors in roll-to-roll or blade-coated processes. This type of monitoring is critical, because the optical and electronic properties are so strongly tied to polymer morphologies. A variety of optical, scattering, and diffraction techniques have been adapted to the study of in situ evolution of crystalline and amorphous domains in continuous coating processes. The recent acquisition of a slot die roll-to-roll coating apparatus is likely to greatly facilitate the integration of in situ metrology. The importance of this type of information is confirmed by endorsement from more than 10 academic and industrial partners.
There is a significant research effort in the area of membranes, with a unifying theme of transport in polymer materials such as ion, electrical, proton, and water. These efforts are highly collaborative, particularly in the area of new materials, and utilize the group’s strengths in characterization and measurement, leveraging common techniques for the benefit of each program. A focus on solid electrolytes is appropriate, given the stability issues for liquid electrolytes in various applications. The program studying aspects of water in membranes (penetration, distribution, occupancy, volume, and diffusivity) is quite extensive, utilizing the MSED’s characterization expertise in thin films (x-ray scattering and reflectivity and neutron scattering and reflectivity in deuterium oxide [D2O]) to study the matrix polymers and their specific long- and short-range interactions in model membranes and constrained films; the formation of ultrathin film membranes prepared using automated layer-by-layer assembly; and analysis of the water content and diffusivities as a function of systematic charges in
membrane chemical structure. The use of poromechanics in water-containing films to study the diffusion of water displaced by mechanical stress is innovative and has great potential. Accurate estimation of solubility and diffusion coefficients for water is key to membrane performance for desalinization.
Mechanical Performance Group
The Mechanical Performance Group performs a significant portion of mechanical testing at NIST, including testing materials under extreme environments, but it is focused primarily on metals, which is a legacy of the merger of the polymers and metallurgy groups into a single division. The automotive lightweighting project is a particularly interesting initiative. Given increasing pressure for accelerating mileage standards in the automobile industry, the focus on high-strength steels, metal alloys, and polymer composites is inevitable. The requirements for material strength, resilience, and safety, coupled with cost and manufacturability, are a significant challenge to the domestic and international automotive industry. The approach of the automotive industry to new material development and testing involves identifying a material, fabricating it into a component, and testing it in a vehicle crash test. While this provides the ultimate test, it is an expensive, time-consuming way of surveying potential materials candidates.
The automotive lightweighting project is addressing this need by developing testing instrumentation with in situ analysis capability that produces data that can be used by advanced computational design tools. The cruciform biaxial stress and strain testers with in situ optical and x-ray monitoring are unique. They have produced some very useful data on magnesium sheet alloys and seem applicable to testing a wide range of relevant metallic alloys and polymer composites. This information will greatly aid automotive designers by providing critical data required by sophisticated predictive tools, which are expected to be widely utilized in the future. The project also seems to be well connected to the automotive industry and to the regulatory agencies. The fact that industrial customers have been participating in developing the requirements for the group’s capabilities and are widely using this facility is seen as a validation of its skills and the importance of its work.
Moving forward, the group is focused on developing metrological foundations for nanomechanics utilizing nanoindentation and submicron diffraction for nanoscopic measurements of strain tensors, supported by DFT modeling and simulations. Given the current focus on nanomaterials and nanotechnology, this is a useful thrust that fits in well with the addition, in 2014, of the nanomanufacturing initiative. The development of nanoscopic characterization techniques such as tomography, microdiffraction, and imaging will be critical to this initiative and positions the group to participate in and contribute to the initiative.
The group’s capability for determining mechanical properties under extreme conditions and high strain is impressive. The research equipment has been used to characterize high rate deformation characteristics, which are very difficult to measure accurately, in both soft materials (Kevlar fibers) and metals. The effort in soft materials is a collaborative project with the Polymers and Complex Fluids Group.
Opportunities and Challenges
The Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) is a challenging and ambitious effort within the national MGI effort, and it will require years of consistent and deliberate efforts to identify and close gaps, develop experimental and theoretical program plans, and complete, in the near term and long term, projects that are built on MML strengths and are useful to the NIST users as well as external customers. NIST is the singular institution to focus on materials data informatics. There are no accepted ontology tools for the broad expanse of materials, and the project is just beginning to assess what is necessary in
this area. Until a detailed project roadmap is constructed with input from the user community, it will be challenging for the program to request additional out-year funding.
Additive manufacturing, and 3-D printing in particular, is a rapidly emerging manufacturing process capable of producing rapid prototypes to enable compressing component design cycles, and it is also being extended to the manufacturing of difficult-to-produce high-performance components. Much of the recent activity involves producing metallic components with usable structural properties; the research has been largely trial-and-error, so this project does fill a gap. Understanding how an as-deposited microstructure can be transformed into a high-performance structural material, taking into account processing conditions and starting material specification, would be of great benefit to industry. It will also accelerate efforts that are developing new material chemistries to more fully exploit the capabilities of additive manufacturing. Because there already is a substantial industrial effort in additive manufacturing, the MSED team will have to get to know the stakeholders and use these interactions to prioritize its efforts and identify the best means to disseminate the results of its work.
The Thermodynamics and Kinetics Group has taken on the task of collecting and storing data regardless of the format in a form that is easily searchable and rapidly accessible; this task is beyond the capability of this small team. Success will require the collaboration and coordination of resources with the new Office of Data and Informatics, which is tasked with helping researchers tap large, information-rich sources as well as providing an interface with the NIST Information Technology Laboratory for data curation and development of a materials-based ontology. Such cooperation will be essential for the establishment and utilization of repositories associated with the MGI. NIST has expertise in assembling and maintaining repositories for data in areas such as mass spectrometry and interatomic potentials, but repositories for the MGI initiative are far more challenging.
Utilization of thermodynamic and kinetic laws and models for prediction of microstructures and phase transformations and their relations to properties has long been a challenge to materials scientists, solid-state physicists, and chemists. An admirable goal of this group is applying its expertise to create a user-friendly interface for computation and modeling that helps tailor computational method and parameters to the properties of interest for metals, soft materials, and CNTs. The group is heavily focused on DFT techniques and their application to metals, alloys, and metal oxides. One of the challenges in meaningful DFT methods is the plethora of choices for matching the most appropriate method to the particular application. The group could help to address this challenge by serving as a repository of expertise for the uninitiated, because DFT techniques are usually the domain of the sophisticated user. More connection of this group to those in other groups working with soft materials modeling and simulation would be worthwhile. Creation of a broad-based focus group involving relevant researchers across the division could be helpful in uniting disparate efforts.
The Functional Nanostructured Materials Group has excellent programs in magnetic materials, aspects of energy storage, and nanowires. Because these efforts are all of high scientific and commercial interest, there is a significant amount of ongoing research in these areas outside NIST. Collaboration with other institutions is important to ensure that the MSED is focusing its resources in the most useful areas.
The Polymers and Complex Fluids Group identified computational capabilities as a strength, particularly in the area of soft materials, but little evidence of its impact on existing programs was presented. This is a key topic noticeably missing from the Thermodynamics and Kinetics Group, which is focused on DFT techniques and metallic and inorganic materials. Together the two groups could provide reasonable computational coverage over the range of materials of interest division-wide. The fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) interface imaging approach has great potential, but it has not been demonstrated to be practically useful. Metallurgy and polymer teams seem to be working independently, with the exception of high-strain-rate testing, where collaboration is evident. Two new efforts exhibit considerable promise. A project on polymer processing and rheology, initiated in 2014, meshes with the in situ studies of materials under extreme conditions. The goal is to study polymer structural changes during processing. Such in situ information could be essential for optimizing applications such as inkjet printing of polymers for electronic applications and injection molding of polymers. Although the collaborators at this early stage are primarily academic, ExxonMobil has recognized the importance for
polymer film and shape processing. The second project, the separation of surfactant-coated CNTs by specific biomolecule recognition, is an extension of the ongoing work to identify practical means to quickly and inexpensively separate different types of nanotubes.
The Functional Polymers Group has focused on membrane separations as a very important area with significant commercial applications; for this reason, the scientific challenges are also being investigated by many others. The MSED has the opportunity to stimulate scientific thinking and help guide the measurement science used by the external groups in the many areas of industrial importance for membranes, not limited to water purification. There is an opportunity to unite disparate applications within the group with common metrology methods, such as what was effectively done for membranes. The effort to develop a portable, stable, bright x-ray source to make CD-SAXS an industrially viable metrology tool is now particularly understaffed.
The principal effort of the Mechanical Performance Group is related to mechanical properties of metallic materials, with soft materials a distant second priority; the only polymer-related effort was the project on measuring the high strain behavior of fibers. There are numerous pockets of soft materials mechanics work scattered throughout the division that would benefit from collaboration by the mechanical performance experts in this group. The cruciform biaxial stress and strain testers with in situ optical and x-ray monitoring are unique, although it may be duplicated in other locations in the future. This equipment has already produced some very interesting data on magnesium alloys, and there are plans for testing a wide range of relevant metallic alloys. This technique may not be limited to metallic materials: it could also be considered for testing other materials, such thermoplastic composite materials, without compromising the group’s support for metallic materials. Increasingly, advanced material structures place demands on the design of composite materials, which include metal, polymer, and ceramic matrix composites and composite coatings for high-temperature application.
Ceramic composite materials are being applied in aerospace and other industrial sectors, such as solar energy. High-temperature testing of these materials is a challenge, especially long-duration, strain-controlled, low-cycle fatigue testing, because the durability of the testing equipment is problematic, and contact gauges to measure displacement are not useful. Development of suitable testing equipment and related standards is evolving, and experts at the MSED could add needed expertise.
Overall Assessment of Technical Programs
This newly formed division (less than 2 years old) has had an encouraging start. The technical program portfolio is robust, has major accomplishments, and is strongly linked to the MML mission. For the most part, the work is at the cutting edge, in some cases pointing the technical community to innovative solutions to complex problems. A key challenge is to effectively integrate the disparate technical efforts within the division into a seamless and uniformly productive unit, because they are addressing highly diverse areas of research and standardization for a wide spectrum of materials and processes. This combination of metallurgy and polymers is not common in academia and industry at this scale. There are meaningful projects under way that entail synergy between the polymers experts and the metallurgists, although this is still evolving.
The newly initiated effort to construct a strategic plan for the MML will help in the assessment of additional opportunities for research within the MSED and will provide a basis for balancing the resources and efforts across the groups. Constructing a strategic plan and the roadmaps that likely will result from it is a substantial effort that would benefit from involving most, if not all, of the technical experts within the division.
Support for new cross-cutting programs at the expense of current ongoing programs can be a challenge of which the research groups are well aware. There is evidence of satisfaction in working on a cross-cutting program; this is a testimony to the division leadership’s success in communicating the importance to the nation of supporting these initiatives.
PORTFOLIO OF SCIENTIFIC EXPERTISE
The MSED has an impressive array of scientific expertise that is suitable to address the advanced technology challenges that the division undertakes. The group managers have been proactive in identifying key emerging technical areas that could benefit from knowledgeable postdoctoral fellows and research associates, and they have successfully recruited top technical talent for these positions. The division has experienced a 10 percent increase in personnel within the last 2 years, indicative of its success in attracting funding for its programs. The NRC postdoctoral program has been astutely used to attract recent Ph.D. graduates possessing the scientific expertise needed to support leading-edge research areas. Experienced postdoctoral fellows working at the MSED have also been a significant resource for the addition of new permanent staff. The continuity of technical effort is challenged when key technical experts retire or move to other assignments, even though in most instances the losses are foreseeable. This is particularly acute in areas that have fewer staff or that are highly dependent on research conducted by postdoctoral researchers. Usually, when the term of service of a postdoctoral researcher ends, there is either a short overlap or a technical talent gap, with resultant loss of continuity and technical knowledge on the project. A similar situation arises when a staff member retires. The consequences are an avoidable slowdown in the critical work of the organization.
For MML cross-cutting programs, there is no standard process to obtain input from industry, academia, and government laboratories (including government-owned, government-operated [GOGO] and government-owned, contractor-operated [GOCO] laboratories) on key program deliverables desired by users. However, all divisions, including the MSED, are strongly engaged with these organizations. Also, these cross-cutting programs currently have no standard means within the MSED to identify researchers in other divisions with suitable expertise who could contribute to the program. Because of the depth of the scientific talent within the division, the leadership and staff have been resourceful in establishing new programs at the request of industry and have been participating in cross-cutting initiatives. Researchers are highly committed to project success and engaged with high enthusiasm in their technical work. They mentioned several positive factors, which included working on important national and industrial problems; collaborating with other experts across the NIST campus; having freedom to conduct research in emerging areas and to address novel approaches for solutions to problems; the enterprise’s commitment to develop comprehensive plans for long-term projects; and the strong connectivity they enjoy with external researchers at universities and other laboratories (government and industry) in selected areas of research and technology.
ADEQUACY OF FACILITIES, EQUIPMENT, AND HUMAN RESOURCES
Facilities within each group in the division range from exceptional to adequate with respect to supporting the division’s goals. The researchers also take advantage of equipment at facilities outside NIST when the cost and projected usage rate of such instruments indicates that it would not be cost-effective for NIST to purchase it. An example of the benefits that first-rate equipment offers is the exciting progress made in dimensional metrology by the Functional Polymers Group using the CD-SAXS with its application to lithographic patterning (particularly line edge roughness, sidewall geometry, and pattern fidelity). This is a very useful pattern characterization tool that has attracted substantial academic and industrial interest and support. With a synchrotron source, data acquisition takes only tens of seconds. With a common laboratory source, data acquisition takes tens of hours, which obviously hampers the utility and industrial adoption of the technique. The sensitivity of the analysis can be further improved using soft x-ray resonance enhancement (resCD-SAXS). Another example is the cruciform biaxial stress/strain testers with in situ optical and x-ray monitoring used by the Mechanical Performance Group. This unique piece of equipment can perform mechanical testing on a wide range of structural materials, providing critical data required by automotive design engineers using sophisticated computation tools; it will shorten the lead time to design lighter-weight vehicles. Also, NIST’s scattering and reflectivity
facilities and capabilities are excellent and provide capability for soft material analysis of both solids and solutions. nSoft provides a rapid proof-of-concept neutron scattering and reflectivity facility whose use does not require a detailed proposal or submission through the general user proposal process.
Maintaining and adding to the suite of cutting-edge facilities and equipment is a substantial challenge, subject to the perturbations of the NIST budget and financial policies. In pursuing new areas, or new directions, equipment acquisition becomes a pacing item. Because of bureaucracy and budget restraints, many instruments are largely home-built. While this often leads to specialization for a particular task, it also engenders a dependency on the creator of the software and hardware, which then becomes an issue when people leave.
Integrating the metallurgy expertise with polymer disciplines has been challenging and is a work in progress. The groups historically have not interacted much, but they are committed to identifying additional areas where they can leverage the knowledge and expertise of each discipline to provide fresh insight for tackling problems.
There has been a systematic erosion over many years of important technical support services, such as machine shop, print shop, glassblowing, and electronics support. This affects the efficient utilization of scientific talent. The ratio of scientific staff and postdoctoral researchers to technicians is very high. The availability of more technicians would free the scientific staff for more productive work.
In summary, the division has developed an excellent set of programs addressed by competent staff. The facilities acquired by the division are of high quality and are adequate to perform the current array of projects. The division faces resource challenges in areas that constitute avenues for further improvement.
DISSEMINATION OF OUTPUTS
Within NIST, the quarterly MML all-hands meetings and the quarterly MSED newsletter have been excellent means of communicating to the employees, many of whom are so immersed in their activities that they do not stay up to date on what else is going on. This communication is an important means of collaboration.
Every MSED activity has a specific plan for disseminating results, which may include attendance at workshops, presentations at technical society meetings and workshops, laboratory focus groups, NIST-sponsored workshops, demonstrations at NIST and partner facilities, publications, patents, and industrial visits. The formation of consortia, such as nSoft, has been a particularly effective dissemination method to industrial research organizations.
Since 2012, the division scientists have authored 173 papers in archival journals, produced 41 conference proceedings, led 13 workshops, co-organized 3 workshops, authored 8 NIST reports, concluded 3 material transfer agreements, and participated in 2 industry roadmapping committees and 45 standards committees. A total of 700 standard reference materials were sold or verified, and 6 invention disclosures were filed.
Staff reported that by policy, many junior researchers may attend only a single technical meeting a year, although they would build their knowledge and their networking with colleagues at universities, government laboratories, and industry—including collaborators at leading institutions—by attending meetings that are most relevant to their work, even if that means more than one meeting a year. While the usual criteria for selection (e.g., participating as organizer, plenary lecturer, or invited speaker) are clear and well known, attendance could be useful even when an attendee is not making seminal contributions. For example, attendance would enhance a researcher’s knowledge of relevant and new research areas or improve their understanding of industry needs. These opportunities are valuable for the professional growth of the individual and, therefore, for NIST. The division needs to continue its aggressive customer outreach efforts, especially by seeking input from customers on which MSED outputs would be most valuable. This information would be quite useful in keeping the strategic plan up to date.
Within the research groups, there is a substantial focus on customer outreach, not only to disseminate the results of the research, but also to determine which MSED outputs would be most valuable to industry. This effort could be expanded as new projects are started.
The division has developed an excellent array of programs addressed by competent staff. The scope of efforts within the division is impressive, ranging in length scales from nanometers to meters. The types of materials and processes used in the investigations cover the gamut of advanced materials, from high-temperature superalloys to magnesium sheet, to sophisticated polymers, polymer composites, electronic and photonic materials, and multifunctional materials. The staff and facilities acquired by the division are of high quality and are adequate to perform the projects. NIST fellows, technical staff, postdoctoral researchers, and guest researchers are attracted by the culture of doing work important to the nation and by the opportunities to employ cutting-edge methods to accomplish their projects. The active involvement of division scientists in technical meetings and forums and their creativity in developing one-of-a-kind instruments are additional factors that keep the division at the cutting edge.
The recent reorganization of the division has increased collaboration opportunities among the different MSED technical groups, such as determining mechanical properties under extreme conditions and high-strain-rate loading conditions for polymeric and metallic materials. The cross-cutting projects, such as the Materials Genome Initiative and the additive manufacturing program, and the MML focus groups offer additional opportunities for collaboration among the technical disciplines. The division has many notable examples of external collaborations and customer outreach activities.
The development of a strategic plan and the formation of the Office of Data and Informatics are important works in progress. The newly initiated effort to develop an overall strategic plan for the MML will help in the identification and assessment of additional opportunities for research within the MSED and will provide a rational basis for balancing the resources and efforts across the groups.
The division has developed a portfolio of projects that encompasses an impressive array of technology challenges of importance to U.S. industry. The projects have brought to bear innovations and applications of measurement science that are crucial to advancing medicine, organic and semiconductor electronics, photonics, aerospace, automotive, and other scientific and technical areas useful to the industrial sectors. The division leadership and staff are making notable efforts in critical areas through an effective integration of technical expertise and facilities to address workspace challenges, including long acquisition time lines and onerous bureaucratic workloads associated with acquisition of equipment, services, and supplies.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The MSED materials informatics work supporting the Materials Genome Initiative is a challenging, ambitious effort within the national MGI effort. To be successful, the MSED will require multiple years of consistent and deliberate effort to identify gaps, develop experimental and theoretical program plans, and complete projects that are useful to the NIST users as well as external customers. However, until a detailed project roadmap has been constructed and validated, it will be challenging for the program to request additional funding. The newly established MML Office of Data and Informatics could be a significant asset to the NIST MGI effort.
Recommendation: The Materials Science and Engineering Division should develop a program roadmap for its Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) effort, detailing specific projects that will produce in the short term and the long term, identifying deliverables useful to the stakeholders, and specifying areas of Material Measurement Laboratory
strengths, opportunities, resource requirements, and priorities. The Materials Science and Engineering Division should develop and implement a systematic plan to obtain stakeholder input on the deliverables for the Materials Science and Engineering Division elements of the MGI program.
MSED’s technical program director is responsible for identifying experts who can contribute to MGI and who coordinate and link cross-cutting tasks, although the standard method for identifying relevant NIST technical experts who can contribute to cross-cutting efforts was not explained.
Recommendation: For cross-cutting programs, the Materials Science and Engineering Division should establish a standard method to identify relevant NIST technical experts who can support its cross-cutting efforts.
MSED staff reported that there are ponderous institutional rules and procedures imposed at the enterprise level that need to be followed to acquire items ranging from needed routine items to major pieces of equipment, and that these are impediments that adversely affect the morale of the researchers and detract from the time that they can focus on their technical efforts.
Recommendation: The Materials Science and Engineering Division should work with Material Measurement Laboratory management and NIST administrative and legal offices to identify compliant ways to streamline the current rules and procedures for acquisition of equipment and support services.
The continuity of technical effort is challenged when key technical experts retire or move on to other assignments, even though in most instances the losses are foreseeable.
Recommendation: The Materials Science and Engineering Division should establish a yearly planning effort and succession plan to address the continuity of critical technical disciplines across the division.
DFT computational techniques are useful for one-dimensional structures (e.g., graphenes and nanotubes). Their utility for 3-D structures is more limited and requires integration with other computational tools. Their application for specific problems in the nanometer scale is worthwhile as is emphasis on phase equilibria, solid state, transformations, and kinetics. While DFT techniques can be very useful, this group appears overly focused on the technique and needs to expand its repertoire of techniques. The work presented was long on rationalization and short on prediction of properties for new structures and compositions and on matching material properties with new structures. This is not surprising for an early effort, but a balance between rationalization and prediction is necessary.
Recommendation: The Thermodynamics and Kinetics Group should develop an understanding of the limitations of density functional theory and should investigate and apply other tools in three-dimensional modeling for metals and soft materials.
Although the Thermodynamics and Kinetics Group provides considerable capability in computation and modeling, it is heavily focused on metals, alloys, and metallic structures. Other materials, such as amorphous solids, glassy materials, and polymers, are given less attention. These types of material are treated computationally in the Polymers and Complex Fluid Group, which studies molecular dynamics and coarse grain methods for polymers.
Recommendation: The Thermodynamics and Kinetics Group and the Polymers and Complex Fluid Group should better connect their computation and modeling efforts to
provide a more inclusive platform for computation and modeling and to foster a materials-by-design concept supporting the Materials Genome Initiative effort.
Development of magnetic nanoparticles for in vivo medical applications is of great biomedical importance, and it is being aggressively addressed by other research groups.
Recommendation: The Functional Nanostructured Materials Group should develop a strong link to medical community users of nanoparticles for in vivo medical applications and should reevaluate the direction and value of its contributions in light of the many efforts ongoing in the area.
From a research point of view, development of 3-D photovoltaics is a challenging proposition with significant external research underway.
Recommendation: The Functional Nanostructured Materials Group should evaluate related work worldwide and should concentrate its efforts on magnetic materials, energy storage, and nanowires to build on current successes, such as leveraging results on the lithium-ion battery.
Although the Polymer and Complex Fluids Group listed expertise in organic synthesis, an effort in organic synthesis was not evident in the presentations to the panel. The lack of synthetic expertise in both this group and the Functional Polymers Group could be viewed as an area in need of significant improvement, because without synthesis capability there is a highly limiting dependence on commercial materials or those generated through external collaboration.
Recommendation: The Polymers and Complex Fluids Group should consider establishing strength in polymer synthesis to support the measurements efforts, so that the researchers have ready access to state-of-the-art materials.
Membrane separation is a very important area, but many of the problems being addressed by the Functional Polymers Group are already being extensively investigated by others.
Recommendation: The Functional Polymers Group should evaluate related work worldwide on membrane separation and should consider redirecting its efforts toward unique scientific contributions that it could make in the many areas of industrial separations utilizing membranes.
The Mechanical Performance Group is heavily focused on metallic materials, a legacy of the previous organizational structure. There is a lack of emphasis on ceramic and ceramic composites, even those these are becoming important commercial material systems.
Recommendation: The Mechanical Performance Group should continue to integrate itself more closely with the groups working on soft materials and should consider the contributions that it could make to the testing of ceramic materials, such as ceramic matrix composites at high temperatures.