The Magic of Materials Science—It's Math


Want a plane that can heal itself in flight? Want a phone that can charge itself from sunlight? Want clean water anywhere in the world? Today’s materials play a big role in the development of tomorrow’s technologies.

An object’s usability, affordability and predictability are all determined by the materials and processes that create it. The more we understand a material at the microscopic level, brought to bear by well-orchestrated experimental and computational data, the more confidently we can predict the life-cycle of any item, whether it’s a plane’s wing, a battery cell or a filtration system.

It isn’t about the way a material looks or feels. It is the science of turning a material into a mathematical algorithm.  Dr. Michael Krein and Jason Poleski, research scientists at Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories, are examining the way we look at materials and then developing techniques for testing to speed up their usability.  Working with Professor Surya Kalidindi from Georgia Tech, they are taking his work in microstructure informatics to see if they can rapidly assimilate raw data into predictive understanding.  

According to Professor Kalidindi, “What’s so exciting about today’s technology development is that it gives us the opportunity to build a repository of materials design knowledge that is specifically targeted at aggregating, fusing, and presenting new material information in a form that allows for a seamless and rapid integration from the laboratory to real world design and manufacturing."

Their goal is to get these new materials from the laboratory to the factory floor in time to make it into the design cycle of future platforms, a problem that prevents many new materials from being adopted.

How is this accomplished? The team is taking the mathematical algorithms of materials and using them for simulated testing to see how these materials can be used in new ways to create new structures.


Material Microstructures for Performance Predictability

“We are working with scientists to turn an image of a material into a series of statistics that we can analyze,” Krein said, “We are looking for trends. We are looking at microstructures to predict a structure’s performance.”

The Lockheed Martin ATL scientists and engineers are manipulating the raw data to see if you can draw a conclusion about the usability of a material. By understanding the fundamental science of a material, engineers are able to understand the greatest impact on a material’s performance. The key is that they are building trust with the manufacturers. If the material fails in testing, that’s okay with the engineers. It’s still early in the process. “Failing early is failing cheaply,” explains Krein.


Lockheed Martin and Georgia Tech are developing new ways to predict the life-cycle of a system through Predictive Analytics.


Integrated Computational Materials Engineering

Many of our designs today are limited by the materials we have available.

“By developing new structures with new properties today, we can change what we build and how we build tomorrow,” explains Poleski.


Integrated computational materials engineering (ICME) is a methodology that optimizes the materials, manufacturing processes, and component design before components are fabricated, by integrating the computational processes involved into a holistic system. It establishes tools, an infrastructure, methodologies, technologies, and even a community to accomplish this goal. It is the integration of materials information, captured in computational tools, with engineering product performance analysis and manufacturing-process simulation.

 “Designers can create incredible materials, but if the manufacturer isn’t willing to try them, few get their benefit,” Poleski said, “We are developing a framework of simulation and testing that gives the manufacturer confidence in the materials we are creating.”

Sharing their ideas and work with the Materials community, Krein and Poleski have presented their work at many conferences, including the National Space & Missile Materials Symposium (NSMMS) and the United States Advanced Ceramics Association USACA. They have also presented as part of the NASA Langley seminar series and TechConnect World in Washington D.C.

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How do I move from a blank sheet to a concept, to a shape, to a complex electro-mechanical system, given I can now “print” more intricate, geometric complex structures at will, from a digital rendering? What do I do first?  What set of rules can I use?  What library of functions and behaviors can I draw from?  How do I meet the goal of simultaneously fulfilling multiple (6 or more) functions of the system while also meeting cost, size, weight, and power restrictions?

Lockheed Martin hosted thought leaders and experts from Government S&T organizations, academia, the engineering software community, and the aerospace and defense industry to explore and articulate the challenges and opportunities represented by Design-for-Additive at the Generative Structural Design Workshop.  Dr. Jan Vandenbrande, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, presented his vision of the program and participated in the day-long workshop.  Other plenary talks were presented by Jordan Brandt, a former generative design futurist from Autodesk; Dennis Little, VP of Strategic Planning from Space Systems Company; Greg Olson, founder and CTO of QuesTek Innovations; and Michael Scott of Isogeometrix LLC.

The workshop identified opportunities and key challenges, exposing a high level of excitement and engagement across Lockheed Martin and the design, manufacturing, and materials communities for this topic, which DARPA will be able to tap into as it develops its plans and objectives for the program.