Illinois wins $1.5 million NSF “Data Infrastructure Building Blocks” grant to accelerate materials-to-device processes

10/08/2014

It can take 20 years between the creation of a new material in the laboratory and the fabrication of next-generation devices that employ the material - and that time lag is passed on to consumers, delaying their access to more advanced cell phones, computers and other devices.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are seeking to accelerate the technology transfer process – perhaps by as much as 50 percent – through a new cyber-infrastructure grant funded by the National Science Foundation. The $1.5 million project, funded under the NSF Data Infrastructure Building Blocks (DIBBs) program, will transform materials-to-device processes by creating new data infrastructure that would enable researchers to better collect, curate and correlate scientific data generated during material creation and device fabrication processes.

Klara Nahrstedt
Klara Nahrstedt

“We have scientists who are producing cutting-edge materials accompanied by enormous amounts of digital data from high-end instruments, and then writing down results in a notebook or storing them on local disks. Only the most interesting results are published, while others get deleted or stored in a drawer for 10 years,” said Klara Narhstedt, the acting director of the Coordinated Science Laboratory (CSL) and professor of computer science. “Our goal with the NSF DIBBs grant is to make sure this innovative research is not only preserved, but that it's also easy for other scientists, such as circuit and device builders, to access and build upon their work.”

To create the tools necessary to capture, store, curate, analyze and correlate data sets related to materials, circuits and device fabrication, experts in computational and computer science will develop two data building blocks, called T2C2 (Timely and Trustworthy Curator and Coordinator), which function as the curator and the coordinator of the materials-to-devices datasets. These tools will utilize new models that optimize storage of material-related and device-related data for fast curation, correlation and search. This will lead to more advanced ways of organizing data, utilizing semantics of materials and devices, and assisting in new interpretations of materials-to-devices connections.

In addition, the T2C2 research team aims to bridge the gaps between data sets captured at different points in time. By creating new methodologies, scientists seek to create a system that is better equipped to extract relevant data from projects conducted years apart. The new infrastructure will also employ advanced security measures, such as access controls, that will enable scientists to set the parameters for who should have access to the research and when they should have it.

Researchers working at Illinois' Micro and Nanotechnology Lab
Researchers working at Illinois' Micro and Nanotechnology Lab
The goal is to lay the foundation for the precise tracking of all processes and information from the creation of a material to the fabrication of a new circuit or device. This materials-to-devices tracking process will look similar to the food tracking process used today. Just as customers can trace the steps it took to get their steak from the pasture to the supermarket, scientists could see the path taken from the creation of a new material genome through its implementation in circuit board or device fabrication.

The T2C2 project is a collaborative effort of the College of Engineering’s three largest interdisciplinary research labs -- CSL, the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory (MRL) and the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory (MNTL) – as well as Illinois’ Information Trust Institute, Computational Science and Engineering program and National Center for Supercomputing Applications. It will draw on Illinois’ expertise in big data, computational science, cybersecurity and material development and device fabrication.

In addition to its research focus, T2C2 will have an educational component. The grant will provide funds to create courses, tutorials and workshops, with the goal of increasing the number of highly skilled interdisciplinary scientists and teaching the next generation of students about the cyber-processes of collecting digital data from material-making/characterization and device fabrication instruments. Through open-source software licenses and training and education programs, researchers hope the project will benefit the materials design and fabrication processes at other universities, major interdisciplinary research institutions and national and industrial labs.

“Our goal is to make sure we don’t lose the digital data produced from material- and device-fabrication experiments that succeed or fail, the latter of which can be equally important in advancing research but is often not preserved,” Nahrstedt said.