North Texas Daily

University research backed by Department of Defense

University research backed by Department of Defense

University research backed by Department of Defense
June 28
14:57 2013

Renee Hansen / Senior Staff Writer

A variety of computers illuminate the professor’s face as he stares at lines and lines of programming code. To the untrained eye, it’s an irrational mix of numbers, symbols and letters of the alphabet that should be left independent of each other.

But to UNT physics and chemistry professor Marco Buongiorno Nardelli, 48, and his colleagues, the lines of code are the answer to the U.S. Department of Defense’s call for critical material replacement. One worth $8.5 million of funding.

UNT is joining with various developers, analysts and mathematicians representing Duke University, Brigham Young University, Central Michigan University and University of Maryland to make up the team of researchers for the 5-year project.

The project is centered on the discovery and design of new materials that can serve not only the Department of Defense but other technological institutions as well. The key is to find, or create, materials that can replace existing ones that are currently rare, expensive or even toxic.

“We need materials for everything. For the iPhones, for the cars, for the buildings, the airplanes and so on,” Nardelli said.

The greatest challenge is to turn the concept into the application. The science is in the simulations.

What days and months of tedious trial-and-error used to produce, a supercomputer can now efficiently generate in a matter of hours.

Luis Agapito, 34, a visiting research professor at UNT, is also one of the leaders of the project at UNT and further explained the necessity of technology in research.

“Before, you were inventing one material at a time,” he said. “Now you can do maybe 100,000 materials at a time.”

But to Agapito, concocting a methodology to kick-start all of this is more important.

“You discover a new method, it can be applied to anything,” he said.

According to Agapito, the process is dense. First, one must figure out the physics of the material. Then it is combined with the math, and finally ends with code writing. The lengthiness of the process is part of the reason why so many researchers are involved.

While Nardelli says Duke University is heading up the project, it’s still very much a team effort. Across the board, there are strengths on each team and each member has something different to offer.

Skills range from Nardelli’s specialty in code and focus on properties to experimentalists in Maryland to mathematicians in Utah.

Professor Marco Fornari, 44, of Central Michigan University, summed it up simply, “We are combining expertise.”

Only 14 projects were awarded this year by the Department of Defense, and while this is impressive enough for the team, Nardelli is excited for the fact that this project was the only one in its field.

In regards to UNT, Nardelli has high hopes for what this project could do for UNT.

“This is the path toward becoming a prestigious university with a recognized program,” he said. “One of the four goals is to become the next Tier 1 university in Texas and to do this, these are the kind of projects that give you the kind of recognition you need to raise the bar.”

All photos courtesy of Marco Buongiorno Nardelli

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