Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1998-1999 index

Distributed March 5, 1999
Contact: Scott Turner

Researchers to conduct virtual design and testing of materials

A Department of Defense grant of $1 million per year for three years will allow Brown researchers to lead a five-university project designed to produce computer-based "virtual" tools for studying advanced materials used in jet engines and launch vehicles.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Brown University will lead a five-university project to develop computer simulations that can predict the mechanical properties of potential high-tech materials. The research, funded by a grant from the Department of Defense, will focus on the failure behavior of the materials, particularly the behavior of individual atoms and their electrons.

Other universities involved in the work are the California Institute of Technology, the University of California-Los Angeles, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The project will receive $1 million annually for three years, about half of which will fund activities at Brown. The grant has a two-year continuation option.

"Successful development of virtual tools will guide the design of real advanced materials needed in a wide spectrum of applications relevant to the Department of Defense," said William Curtin, professor of engineering at Brown. "Examples include metal alloys capable of withstanding the high temperatures and corrosive environments inside jet engines, and strong, lightweight materials for re-usable launch vehicles. These tools will also be useful for the design and simulation of materials in many commercial areas such as the microelectronics and automotive industries."

Nearly all materials fail unexpectedly through exposure to harsh chemicals, high temperatures, stress or a combination of factors. "This project will develop methods to simultaneously account for the chemistry, stress and temperature effects at the atomic scale and to incorporate the chemical information into simulations of the mechanical performance of a structure built from the material," he said.

Curtin, professor Alan Needleman and associate professor Rob Phillips will lead the project. All are members of the solid mechanics research group in the Brown University Division of Engineering.

The project's research team includes chemists, physicists, material scientists and mechanical engineers. "All of the disciplines are needed to construct the full range of computational tools necessary for predicting the failure of materials," Curtin said.

The grant was awarded through the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program in the Department of Defense. MURI awards provide long-term support for research, graduate students and the purchase of equipment supporting specific science and engineering research themes vital to national defense.