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Sparks flying from metal
The Adaptive Sample Preparation and Target Fabrication for High-Throughput Materials Science Workshop brought together a diverse set of innovative participants from national laboratories, academia and industry. | Image: Los Alamos National Laboratory Explosives Center

High-repetition-rate, brilliant and coherent light sources are significantly increasing the pace at which scientific experiments can be performed. For the field of materials science to fully leverage this capability, technological transformations are needed in materials sample preparation and target fabrication. Achieving this transformation could open new frontiers in high-energy-density science and dynamic materials in extremes research, both of which are central to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Stockpile Stewardship mission.

With a goal of advancing this revolution, members of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and The Texas A&M University System recently led a workshop aimed at assessing current efforts in high-volume, flexible, and agile materials sample preparation and target fabrication, fostering collaborative interactions that take advantage of present advances, and considering initiatives that could attract sponsor support.

The Adaptive Sample Preparation and Target Fabrication for High-Throughput Materials Science Workshop, held in May in College Station, Texas, brought together a diverse set of innovative participants from national laboratories, academia and industry. Cris Barnes, champion for matter-radiation interactions in extremes at LANL, remarked, “Many of the attendees had never been in the same room before or met, and most found it very exciting to hear about new and different research. Texas A&M University did a great job facilitating these interactions.”

The two-day workshop featured sessions dedicated to identifying challenges and needs, and to describing solutions and new technologies. Participants at the workshop realized the rare opportunity to combine three major initiatives: the materials genomics initiatives, the fields of artificial intelligence and big data science, as well as advanced manufacturing driven by science. This can come together in autonomous materials discovery systems, also known as materials acceleration platforms. Participants agreed that if the issues and challenges of adaptive sample preparation could be solved, major advances could be made in multiple fields.

To move forward, workshop participants would like to seek qualified sponsors willing to fund innovative projects that could be used at multiple facilities with a possible big payoff or return. To succeed in attracting sponsors, they will need to identify:

  • A key application, such as nuclear photonics/neutron radiography that requires high-volume and high-repetition rate;
  • An important science campaign, such as an effort to generate a nearly complete set of opacity data or x-ray transition data that would drive enabling technology investment over the required several years; or
  • A user facility open to innovative beamline proposals where autonomous systems could be developed with wide applicability.

Dr. Michael Demkowicz, associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Texas A&M, added, “The challenges are pretty substantial, but if we can pull off an experiment campaign as envisioned by this workshop, the impact could be huge. Materials research might shift from individuals making their best bet on what to investigate to an AI (artificial intelligence) steering an automated ‘discovery machine’ running thousands of tests a day.”

The meeting was the first 2019 workshop funded by LANL’s Momentum Initiative, which aims to maintain a state-of-technical awareness on key directions in mesoscale materials or accelerator science. DOE has identified an unmet national scientific need for a dynamic mesoscale materials science capability. Such a capability, supporting the strategic and vital goal of science for manufacturing, would require the advanced sample preparation and target fabrication discussed at the workshop; similarly, advances in understanding issues of inertial fusion and high-energy-density science would benefit by higher-throughput experiments. This workshop was one of a multi-year series of such workshops that LANL has sponsored.