DOD partners with new ceramics research center at WSU

Manufacturing equipment for additive manufacturing of ceramics.

Washington State University researchers will partner with the Department of Defense Army Research Laboratory (ARL) on a cooperative agreement for research focused on materials used in extreme environments. 

Led by Scott Beckman, associate professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the partnership includes development of a new research center, called Cer3D, that is focused on accelerated discovery, design, and development of ceramic materials and that aims to build US capability in ceramic science and engineering. 

Although in recent years researchers have made great advances in semiconductors, nanomaterials, and biomaterials, investment in ceramics research has waned. Cer3D’s vision is to be an academic leader in ceramic science and engineering, allowing its students to fill essential roles in academia, national laboratories, and industry. 

During its first calendar year Cer3D will receive $4 million to support faculty, graduate students, staff, and equipment. The center brings together a variety of expertise across the WSU campus, including 11 faculty members and dozens of students and staff members, with expertise in a wide range of areas, including in 3D printing and conventional manufacturing, shock physics, quantum computations, data science, and characterization of microstructures.

Much of the work will be focused on fundamental research needed for hypersonic flight for military applications, but the research also has civilian applications, particularly related to energy and transportation. 

“The work that we’re doing addresses challenges in materials science that are broadly applicable — any place where technology is limited by materials’ capabilities in extreme environments,” said Beckman. 

The center is focused on understanding and controlling the fundamental mechanisms that affect processing, properties, and performance of a material. It aims to apply machine learning methods to integrate computational with experimental data, to accelerate discovery, design, and development of new ceramic materials. 

“Although we will examine specific material systems relevant for our partners, our goal is to demonstrate and advance general solutions that can be applied broadly to issues currently limiting the advance of ceramic science,” Beckman said.

With new equipment and using the facilities in the ARL, the researchers will be able to study materials at extreme temperatures and pressures, up to 1600 degrees Celsius, an area of research that has traditionally been difficult to study. In addition to the faculty research exchange, WSU students will also have the opportunity for internships at the ARL facilities. 

“The most important thing in any center or scientific endeavor is the people, not the equipment,” said Beckman. “The people are what’s going to make this project successful, and WSU is the right place for that.”

In addition to Beckman, the center will be led by John McCloy, Arda Gozen, and David Field in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and Vikas Prakash, professor and associate director of the Institute for Shock Physics. The agreement was made possible by support from Washington’s congressional delegation as well as from WSU’s Office of Government Relations.

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