WPI Plays Pivotal Role in National Report On Advanced Materials

The report by the U.S. Council on Competitiveness is based on a dialogue co-chaired by WPI president Laurie Leshin and included contributions by several WPI faculty and staff members.
January 12, 2017

WPI president Laurie Leshin, center, and vice provost for

research Bogdan Vernescu, far right, participate in a dialog

on advanced materials at the Council on Competitiveness.

In early October 2016, the U.S. Council on Competitiveness (CoC) unveiled a major report on the link between advanced materials and America’s future economic vitality. The report, reflecting more than a decade of study on advanced materials by the council, was the product of an April 2016 dialogue on the subject organized by the council’s Energy and Manufacturing Competitiveness Partnership and chaired by WPI president Laurie Leshin, along with council president and CEO Deborah Wince-Smith and Aziz Asphahani, CEO of QuesTek Innovations.

The panel discussion included national leaders and materials experts from all sectors of the economy. Among the participants from WPI were Danielle Cote, assistant research professor of materials science and engineering; Diana Lados, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Integrative Materials Design Center; Brajendra Mishra, Kenneth G. Merriam Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling; and Bogdan Vernescu, vice provost for research.

Diran Apelian, Alcoa-Howmet Professor of Engineering at WPI and founding director of the Metal Processing Institute (MPI), gave a presentation during the April CoC meeting on barriers and impediments to deploying the full potential of advanced materials. Subsequently, Apelian and Asphahani participated in a panel on Capitol Hill on Oct. 4 (National Manufacturing Day), where the council report was made public.

“Throughout history, materials have marked eras in our development as a society, civilization, and culture: Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and so on,” Apelian said during the Capitol Hill event. “In the 21st century, it is the Innovation Age, which is enabled and fueled by advanced materials. For the United States to maintain its competitive advantage, we must invest in the engine that fuels the innovation economy: advanced materials. It’s that simple.”

Diran Apelian, founding director of WPI’s Metal Processing

Institute, discussed the report on Capitol Hill.

The report, Leverage: Advanced Materials, explained how new materials will be critical building blocks that can drive significant enhancements in America’s energy production, manufactured products, and overall economy. “Advanced materials are a key enabler to enhancing U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and ensuring its sustained growth by increasing products’ performance and durability, and by lowering their cost via improved energy efficiency,” said Asphahani. He noted that the report offers these clear recommendations for the design, development, and deployment of novel materials at a faster pace and reduced cost:

  • Take a deeper dive into the full life cycle of rare earths and other critical materials.
  • Develop a better understanding of the risk aversion among manufacturers to using new materials in systems.
  • Dedicate area-specific pilot-plant facilities to collaborate with national laboratories, universities, and companies to accelerate deployment and decrease the commercialization time horizon for advanced materials.
  • Address the skills gap in the advanced materials and manufacturing sector by embracing an interdisciplinary approach to education that combines traditional materials science curricula with data science, modeling, and computational sciences.
  • Develop a national platform to promote the generation and sharing of data to support the creation, processing, modeling, and manufacturing of advanced materials.

In this vein, WPI’s MPI is launching the multi-university Center for Materials Processing, with Danielle Cote as director. It will generate and manage in-process, transient materials properties used in modeling and simulation.

The U.S. Council on Competitiveness is a nonpartisan leadership group of CEOs, university presidents, labor leaders, and national laboratory directors working to ensure U.S. prosperity.