Distributed March 26, 2001
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Janet Kerlin
At GM: Charles Licari (810) 986-0077

General Motors to fund $3-million materials lab at Brown

Brown University engineers will conduct research in lightweight materials funded with $3 million from General Motors. The collaborative lab at Brown will develop computer models of how materials behave, culminating in the prediction of mechanical properties of finished parts in vehicles.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — General Motors Corp. will fund a $3-million collaborative lab for advanced materials research at Brown University to find ways to trim vehicle weight, improve recyclability and streamline assembly.

This lab will push the frontiers of Brown’s leading expertise in solid mechanics and materials science and provide GM with the next generation of computational tools for developing new and high-performance lightweight materials.

“We are eager to work with Brown University because many of the best modeling techniques in computational materials science were developed here,” said Alan Taub, executive director of science at the General Motors Research and Development Center in Warren, Mich. “The faculty members are leaders in their scientific fields and many have industrial experience. We feel this arrangement has great potential to give GM a competitive advantage.”

Under joint direction by scientists and engineers at the automaker and at Brown, the lab will develop computer models of how materials behave at the atomic scale and at successively larger length scales, culminating in the prediction of the mechanical properties of finished parts in vehicles.

The GM and Brown teams have coined the phrase "from atoms to autos" to describe such a multiscale modeling approach to new materials development for vehicles.

These computational tools will allow new materials with superior performance to be developed through engineering at the atomic level, according to professor Rodney J. Clifton, dean of engineering at Brown. “The computer tools will replace much of the traditional trial-and-error approach to the development of new automotive materials and processes, reducing the costs and time required for microstructure optimization and processing development,” Clifton said.

“The research will also develop and assess new materials that could lead to low-cost, high-performance and environmentally friendly components for automotive applications,” Taub said.

GM’s financial commitment to the collaborative research at Brown is for five years, but it could grow as promising new ideas are developed.

“We’re also interested in this relationship beyond just the materials,” said Kathleen Taylor, director of the Materials and Processes Lab at GM R&D. “This is about people, too. Our collaboration should enhance the career development of GM employees and help Brown University train some talented students whom we might like to hire.”

As part of the collaboration, GM and Brown will exchange some researchers through internships, sabbatical leaves or fellowships.

“Having a major collaboration with such a forward-thinking company as General Motors will provide exceptional research opportunities for Brown’s faculty members and students,” said Peder Estrup, dean of the Graduate School and Research at Brown. He noted that the educational experience of graduate students would be greatly enriched by their interaction with industrial researchers at GM.

According to Taub, GM expects to establish more of these collaborative relationships because creating partnerships with universities, suppliers, government and other automakers is the fastest way to deliver innovative vehicle technology to the marketplace.

As part of this strategy, GM already has established similar labs in other fields at the University of Michigan, Carnegie-Mellon University, Stanford University, and Jiaotong University in Shanghai, China.