The multidisciplinary Materials Technology Laboratory (MTL) of Northwestern's Department of Materials Science and Engineering was founded at MIT in 1985 by its Director, Prof. Greg Olson, as the multi-institutional Steel Research Group (SRG) and reorganized in 1988 with Northwestern as lead institution. The mission of the program is the creation of the methods, tools and databases for the systems-based multiscale multidisciplinary computational design of materials, using high-performance ferrous alloys as an initial test case. The MTL name adopted in 1997 acknowledges broadening of the activity to encompass alloys based on aluminum, titanium, nickel and refractory metals, including shape-memory alloys, high-temperature superalloys and bulk metallic glasses, with exploratory activities in ceramics, polymers and biomimetic smart composites. Design research addresses the accelerated design, development and qualification of advanced materials for aerospace, automotive and medical applications. Funded by federal agencies (principally DoD, DOE and NSF) with 10-20% industry support, MTL/SRG annual funding in recent years is $1.2M to $1.7M, involving close coordination of an additional approximately $3M of external research. The multidisciplinary approach integrates activities in materials science, applied mechanics and quantum physics, spanning a hierarchy of scales from macroscopic process models to quantitative control of nanostructure using predictive subatomic quantum-level methods.
Research and education activities are tightly integrated through close collaboration with the Segall Design Institute in the school of engineering. Graduate and post-doctoral researchers are actively involved in the coaching of undergraduate design teams in both departmental and cross-departmental design courses, while humanities faculty collaborate in teaching and "techmanities" course development. The Bodeen-Lindberg Materials Design Studio of the materials department gives undergraduates full access to MTL/SRG computational tools. Student teams have consistently placed 1st or 2nd in the TMS-AIME national materials undergraduate design competition. 

In addition to its novel research/education integration, the MTL/SRG activity has served as a test bed for numerous innovations in cross-functional university activities. Founded as a collaboration of NSF/MRL (Materials Research Laboratory) thrust groups at 3 universities, the original SRG served as a pilot for the national NSF-MRG (Materials Research Group) expansion of the MRL system, now incorporated into NSF's current MRSEC (Materials Research Science & Engineering Center) structure. With a new emphasis on value creation and accelerated technology transfer though entrepreneurship of faculty, staff and students, the MTL operated as a school-based center from 1997-2001 through a merger of the SRG with the Advanced Coatings Technology Group (ACTG) of the university's former BIRL industrial laboratory. Under its broadened entrepreneurial mission the MTL aided formation of  4 startup companies, 2 of which absorbed the ACTG activities. An Enterprise Club founded by Prof. Olson in which undergraduates operated their own design company, is now supervised by the Industrial Engineering department. QuesTek Innovations LLC, headed by alumnus Dr. Charles Kuehmann, maintains a close research synergy in the commercialization of materials and services based on MTL/SRG research. In addition to several technology awards, QuesTek received the Sun-Times Chicago Innovation Award in 2002 for successful commercialization of "Materials by Design" technology.
A major MTL/SRG initiative on materials and structures for antiterrorism blast protection is conducted under the ONR Grand Challenge in "Naval Materials by Design." Graduate research and undergraduate design projects combining quantum physics, applied mechanics and materials science in multiscale materials design are closely coordinated with mechanical engineering research on novel blast protection structures, while interdisciplinary undergraduate team projects explore civilian adaptation of the new technology for homeland security applications.
Building on our previous success under the DARPA-AIM (Accelerated Insertion of Materials) initiative developing an accelerated materials development and qualification technology, the recent AFOSR-MEANS (Materials Engineering for Affordable New Systems) project tested the limits of predictive quantum mechanical tools in accelerated fundamental database development for first-principles design of a new class of refractory metal superalloys enabling a leap in aeroturbine blade material operating temperatures from 1000C to 1300C. A student team integrating early results in their undergraduate class project won the 2004 TMS-AIME design competition, demonstrating very promising results on the first alloy prototypes.

In collaboration with QuesTek, the newest MTL/SRG initiative is the ONR/DARPA “D3D” Digital 3D Structure Consortium, a 5 year $7.5M company-led multi-university consortium integrating a suite of multiscale tomographic microstructural characterization tools with higher fidelity 3D microstructural simulation tools enabling greater accuracy in accelerated materials design and development. A new industry-funded activity in Smart Materials addresses a new generation of high strength shape memory alloys for medical devices and high-power density microactuators.


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