Warren Hunt

A recent Nature article suggests that the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) should consider teaming up with the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s (NNI) Nanotechnology Knowledge Infrastructure (NKI) initiative to leverage its nanotechnology data infrastructure. I’ve discussed MGI before on this blog (Happy Birthday, Materials Genome Initiative; Data, Data, Data – Part 1 and Part 2), but was surprised that I knew very little about NKI. After digging deeper into the initiative, I’ve come to realize that this suggestion presents a real opportunity for MGI that could help address the significant data challenges it faces.

NKI is an NNI Signature Initiative that coordinates the nanoscale science, engineering, and technology communities around the interconnected elements of collaborative modeling, a cyber-toolbox, and data infrastructure. Similar to MGI, its overall goal is to capitalize on U.S. strengths in innovation, shorten the time from research to new product development, and maintain U.S. leadership in the sustainable design of engineered nanoscale materials.

A May 2012 white paper outlining NKI’s motivation and framework points to the potential synergy between NKI and MGI. NKI’s focus on nanometer-scale phenomena fills a gap in the broad spectrum of length-scale data that MGI is working to cultivate. In addition, approaches, protocols, and standards developed through MGI activities could be initially explored, tested, or evaluated specifically for nanoscale materials under NKI efforts as one mechanism—a definite value add that would help move MGI’s objectives ahead as well.

Another component of the NKI that can be leveraged by MGI is related to the concept of Data Readiness Levels (DRLs). Outlined in a May 2013 draft discussion document, DRLs are a potential framework for the maturity and quality of data. Analogous to the widely used Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs), DRLs consist of seven graded definitions of data quality and maturity, augmented by metadata qualifiers to assess the state of the data’s curation and provenance. The existing NKI DRLs provide a strong example that can help guide MGI’s efforts to build a consistent and reliable data management framework.

Based on discussions with my colleagues engaged in MGI, there are other collaborative efforts under way, certainly at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with its strong focus on data management, as well as in other agencies. While the breadth and segmentation of the materials community could make this cross-cutting activity between MGI and other agencies like NKI challenging and communication-intensive, the potential for accelerated progress makes it worth the effort. Leveraging existing opportunities like these throughout the materials field is one important way for MGI to fast-track its efforts and the achievement of its goals for U.S. materials and manufacturing innovation.