Today, the White House is bringing academia together with the public and private sectors to discuss progress on President Obama’s Materials Genome Initiative. Announced last June, the effort seeks to harness the power of modern computing and communications technologies to enable U.S. companies to discover, develop, manufacture, and deploy advanced materials at twice the speed than is possible today – at a fraction of the cost.
One of the projects that the White House sees fit to highlight today as an example of this kind of innovation and collaboration just happens to be an effort hosted on IBM’s World Community Grid. The White House is pointing to the work of Prof. Alán Aspuru-Guzik, an associate professor at Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, whose team is running The Clean Energy Project, perhaps the largest computational chemistry experiment ever.
With oil production peaking in the near future, alternative sources of energy are becoming increasingly important. In order to develop new energy-related technologies, highly engineered materials are needed. In particular, novel designs for solar cells and fuel cells based on organic molecules often require molecules with very specific characteristics to efficiently capture and store energy.
Instead of physically testing and manufacturing all or even some molecular materials with high potential, the Aspuru-Guzik group is performing a massive number of computational chemistry calculations to predict the properties and behavior of seven million organic molecules. Then, only the most promising candidates that might boost the performance of solar cells based on organic molecules are more closely examined. Last year, the team identified a molecule that could make for extraordinary semiconductors. Within about a year, data from the 1,000 or so of the most tantalizing calculations will be made available to all for further development.
What makes Professor Aspuru-Guzik’s project even more interesting and relevant to the Materials Genome Initiative is that it is being made possible by IBM’s World Community Grid. World Community Grid exemplifies the extraordinary results of a partnership among academia, the private sector, and the general public. World Community Grid marshals the spare computational power of PCs volunteered by the general public, and provides it – free of charge – to scientists who want to accelerate their research into cures for cancer, AIDS and other diseases; advance solar energy and clean water; and develop healthier food.
Volunteers download a small application to their Windows, Mac OS or Linux computers which crunch numbers for researchers when the volunteers’ computing devices aren’t otherwise being used – even between keystrokes. To date, nearly 600,000 individuals and organizations in more than 80 countries have registered two million devices for World Community Grid’s use on 21 projects. Scientists have told us that it collapses research times of 100 years or more to just 12 months or so.
Since its inception, World Community Grid has delivered more than 620 million research results. It is equivalent in speed and capacity to the some of the world’s 15 fastest traditional supercomputers, and is the largest and most diverse grid computing project dedicated to practical humanitarian research.
So, if someone wants to talk about practical mechanisms to accelerate the pace of discovery at a lower cost, they needn’t look terribly far. Certainly, there are many other resources, technologies and collaborations to enable the research and development of all sorts of novel materials. However, we couldn’t be prouder to offer a resource that resonates strongly with the scientific community and volunteers alike, and is available today and for the foreseeable future.
Juan Hindo is a program manager with IBM’s Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs group.
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