"We can do it faster." President Obama announces the Materials Genome Initiative

On Friday, President Barack Obama announced an ambitious new plan to double the speed with which new materials are discovered, developed, and manufactured. The Materials Genome Initiative for Global Competitiveness, launched as part of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, will leverage existing Federal investments to foster greater cooperation among all stakeholders in the hope of increasing domestic manufacturing.

"The invention of silicon circuits and lithium-ion batteries made computers and iPods and iPads possible -- but it took years to get those technologies from the drawing board to the marketplace," the President said while visiting Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center. "We can do it faster."

A press release from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy explained the inspiration for the project and its ultimate goals:

“In the same way that the Human Genome Project accelerated a range of biological sciences by identifying and deciphering the basic building blocks of the human genetic code, the Materials Genome Initiative will speed our understanding of the fundamentals of material science, providing a wealth of practical information that entrepreneurs and innovators will be able to use to develop new products and processes."

The 2012 fiscal year budget includes $100 million to launch the initiative, with funding for the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The money will be used to fund computational tools, software, new methods for material characterization, and the development of open standards and databases intended to make the process of discovery and development of advanced materials faster, less expensive, and more predictable.

The President’s announcement could not come at a more opportune time for advocates of a more robust national approach to materials, particularly those rare earth elements (REE) such as neodymium deemed critical to the technology sector. It signals a serious commitment to developing new models for bringing game-changing technical innovations, such as nanotechnology, to scale rapidly.

Recent developments have shown that the REE market, 97% of which is controlled by China, is extremely volatile and there is much uncertainty about the future of REE availability. In order to ward off the effects of critical material shortages, the Obama administration has made the development of alternative technologies a priority.

Image: Meridian Institute Nanotechnology and Development News

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