CWRU wins grant for Center of Excellence

Nihal Manjila, Staff Writer

Recently, Case Western Reserve University won a five-year $14.2 million grant from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to establish a Materials Data Science for Stockpile Stewardship Center of Excellence (MDS3 COE). CWRU is partnering with University of Central Florida (UCF) in this effort. The MDS3 COE will also work with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and Kansas City National Security Complex. 

The MDS3 COE will be headed by Dr. Roger French, the Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering; Dr. Laura Bruckman, Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering; and Dr. Yinghui Wu, the Theodore L. and Dana J. Schroeder Associate Professor of Computer and Data Sciences. Jonathan Steirer, Operations Manager of the SDLE Research Center, will serve as executive director of the center. 

Representative Marcy Kaptur (D–OH), Chair of the House Energy and Water Subcommittee, introduced the research group to the agency. According to French, the group previously undertook a smaller project for the national laboratories and succeeded using CWRU’s distributed and high-performance computing. This led the research group to apply for the grant to establish the MDS3 COE. 

The center’s goal will be to understand mechanisms of material degradation, and to develop methods of designing and manufacturing replacements for components and systems used to safely store the nuclear stockpile. As French and Steirer explained, the center will aid in preserving pre-existing nuclear material, as opposed to constructing new weapons. 

“The Department of Energy works on developing replacement parts,” said French, “and as things get older, it becomes harder to do that.” He gave the example of solar panels, which have a lifetime of about 25 years with no additional care or replacement. 

The MDS3 COE will have two functions: conducting interdisciplinary research and educating future professionals. The directors emphasized the significance of experts from multiple disciplines working together, and as the name suggests, the center will involve faculty members and students in materials science, data science and related fields. 

“Effectively, we do team science to merge data and materials science for nuclear stockpile stewardship,” said French. 

“This is really an interdisciplinary effort,” said Bruckman, “we have experts in chemistry and engineering working together.” 

The specific technical focuses of the center were described by French as including additive manufacturing of metals and polymer parts, beamline diffraction of materials, electronic components reliability, corrosion of metal parts and interfacial adhesion and failure.  

“There are some traditional methods in working on these problems that are very time consuming,” said Wu. “These processes can be made more efficient by using machine learning, artificial intelligence, data mining and big data analysis.” 

One of the goals of the MDS3 COE is to train scientists and implement solutions at the national laboratories to put the products of center research to use in safeguarding the nuclear stockpile. 

Graduate and undergraduate students have an opportunity to do research and be involved with the MDS3 COE. The center is slated to host 11 faculty members, 16 graduate students and roughly 20 undergraduates, among others. Steirer explained that the MDS3 COE has a stipend for graduate students and hourly pay for undergraduates. He also mentioned that roughly $1 million will be used to upgrade and modify the facility to enable students and faculty to conduct their research. 

The DOE’s interest in education directly benefits the DOE and NNSA. While graduating students trained in materials science and data science skills benefit the United States, French described the issue of an aging workforce that he thought could be solved through this center. 

“The DOE needs young people to hire, and they need to know data and computer science,” said French. “They want us to develop a pipeline of educating students who will eventually work in the DOE.” According to French, three group members have already accepted jobs at the DOE. 

The MDS3 COE also benefits the students who become involved with the center, as it presents a number of opportunities in research, work experience and networking. 

“It is a very novel thing for students to have such interdisciplinary experiences in their research,” said Bruckman. Research in a department laboratory is often limited to just one field, but the center combines work in multiple fields. 

Bruckman also described how a major education goal is to teach students how to effectively communicate through their experiences with partner institutions and national laboratories. 

“The university has signed an agreement with Lawrence to send students to intern there,” said Steirer. “This is a fantastic opportunity for students to get face time with DOE scientists.” While internship seats are not guaranteed, it is a valuable opportunity to gain professional experience and network with experts in the field. 

“We are looking to partner with minority-serving and HBCU institutions,” said Steirer when asked about what universities the MDS3 COE would partner or collaborate with in the future. 

The education goals of the MDS3 COE also extend to future partners and collaborators. 

“We want to offer fundamental data science courses to [the University of Texas] Rio Grande [Valley] and UCF,” said Steirer. 

The NNSA grant has the potential to further establish CWRU as the site of cutting-edge research in a number of disciplines. The MDS3 COE also demonstrates the utility of working across disciplines and combining expertise in different fields.