Warren Hunt

As important as “location, location, location” is to real estate, digital data is critical to realizing the goals of the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI)—for details on the initiative, view my last post. But, the inherent complexity of and accessibility to this data could pose significant challenges to MGI’s success.

Although often compared to the monolithic Human Genome Project (HGP), which compiled all genes in human DNA in one place, materials data has significantly greater heterogeneity. This point is well summarized in a recent Nature Materials editorial.  As a result, MGI is expected to take a different approach than HGP, instead producing small and diverse data repositories that result from materials community-driven initiatives.

Materials and processing data is also often difficult to access. It is widely dispersed throughout the materials community and, in some cases, simply “lost” on the personal computers of researchers or inaccessible to the public behind corporate firewalls.

A recent directive from the Office of Science and Technology Policy aims to address this issue of accessibility. This memorandum from OSTP Director Dr. John Holdren directs federal agencies to develop plans for increasing public access to results published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. It also states that “digitally formatted scientific data…should be stored and publicly accessible to search, retrieve, and analyze.” While the memo covers all federal agencies and research areas, it also strongly supports the needs of the MGI and will be invaluable to the community as it gets its arms around the digital data elements of the Materials Innovation Infrastructure.