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Combining artificial intelligence with experimentation sped

2018-04-19 09:52 View:
If you combine two or three metals together, you will get an alloy that usually looks and acts like a metal, with its atoms arranged in rigid geometric patterns.
 
But once in a while, under just the right conditions, you get something entirely new: a futuristic alloy called metallic glass. The amorphous material's atoms are arranged every which way, much like the atoms of the glass in a window. Its glassy nature makes it stronger and lighter than today's best steel, and it stands up better to corrosion and wear.
 
Although metallic glass shows a lot of promise as a protective coating and alternative to steel, only a few thousand of the millions of possible combinations of ingredients have been evaluated over the past 50 years, and only a handful developed to the point that they may become useful.
 
Now a group led by scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Northwestern University has reported a shortcut for discovering and improving metallic glass -- and, by extension, other elusive materials -- at a fraction of the time and cost.
 
The research group took advantage of a system at SLAC's Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) that combines machine learning -- a form of artificial intelligence where computer algorithms glean knowledge from enormous amounts of data -- with experiments that quickly make and screen hundreds of sample materials at a time. This allowed the team to discover three new blends of ingredients that form metallic glass, and to do it 200 times faster than it could be done before.
 
The study was published today, April 13, in Science Advances.
 
"It typically takes a decade or two to get a material from discovery to commercial use," said Chris Wolverton, the Jerome B. Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering in Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering, who is an early pioneer in using computation and AI to predict new materials. "This is a big step in trying to squeeze that time down. You could start out with nothing more than a list of properties you want in a material and, using AI, quickly narrow the huge field of potential materials to a few good candidates."
 
The ultimate goal, said Wolverton, who led the paper's machine learning work, is to get to the point where a scientist can scan hundreds of sample materials, get almost immediate feedback from machine learning models and have another set of samples ready to test the next day -- or even within the hour.
 
Over the past half century, scientists have investigated about 6,000 combinations of ingredients that form metallic glass. Added paper co-author Apurva Mehta, a staff scientist at SSRL: "We were able to make and screen 20,000 in a single year."
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