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Consortiums will study extreme environments, lighter-weight devices, batteries

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory Enterprise for Multiscale Modeling of Materials reached a milestone when Johns Hopkins University and University of Utah were both awarded funding by the lab to begin designing materials with a holistic perspective of materials from atoms to applications.

The awards come after several years of research and planning for the Enterprise that started in 2007. The Enterprise is comprised of Collaborative Research Agreements led by the universities and an ARL in-house initiative for Multiscale Research of Materials.

"The vision for the Enterprise for Multiscale Research of Materials is to achieve a materials-by-design capability that will give us revolutionary devices and materials for the Army. We have that capability only in part now to give the soldier the incredible equipment they have today, but we have to think about the demands of the future," said Dr. John Pellegrino, director, Computational and Information Sciences Directorate.

The Johns Hopkins University-led group to develop new materials designed to protect soldiers in extreme dynamic environments launched April 16, with an award of up to $90 million. The program is planned for a five-year initial study that could be renewed for an additional five years.

ARL also awarded the University of Utah-led consortium a five-year grant of $14,898 to use computer simulations to help design materials for lighter-weight energy efficient devices and batteries. Of its five-year grant, University of Utah will retain funding for research and administrative functions.

The in-house component for Multiscale Research of Materials, which has been ongoing since 2010, is a collaboration of leading ARL scientists and engineers in materials research, electron devices research, and computational approaches in models that can span the materials space.

"We have a deep-rooted capability," Pellegrino said. "The alliance builds on that expertise to take it to the next level. It is a natural progression for us to look at the deeper science and link all of the pieces together."

As ARL looks at ways to study materials that will better protect Soldiers who put their lives at risk, one of many ways is to limit the amount of weight of the materials used in their protective armor, devices and batteries.

It can take 20 years or more for a newly discovered material to be incorporated into commercial products. This pace is far too slow given the range of urgent challenges that high-tech materials can help address, according to a White House Materials Genomes fact sheet.

The plans of ARL's Enterprise are well aligned with the White House's Materials Genome Initiative and will contribute to the genomic basis for new materials that have the unprecedented properties and capabilities to enable, among others, ultra-lightweight protection systems, long-life portable power systems, and electronic materials and devices that are focused on Soldier needs.

When the lab has to do things that are much more unique to the Army, the cost goes up considerably. Having a larger community commitment that includes industry, academia, national labs and government increases the collaboration and drives manufacturing costs down. "The scientific understanding also grows that much faster," Pellegrino said.