the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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It's Time to Open Materials Science Data

Summary: 
In 2011 President Obama launched the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI). Almost four years later, the MGI is a far-reaching endeavor with over $400 million committed to help support over 500 research scientists and activities to accelerate the development of advanced materials. A key element of the MGI is ensuring open access to and innovative uses of materials-science data. Federal agencies are working with partners in other sectors to open access to research data and provide robust solutions to data storage and services.

In 2011 President Obama launched the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI), committing the nation to discover, develop, and deploy cutting-edge materials twice as fast and at a fraction of the cost at that time. Almost four years later, the MGI is a far-reaching endeavor with over $400 million committed to help support over 500 research scientists and activities to accelerate the development of advanced materials.

A key element of the MGI is ensuring open access to and innovative uses of materials-science data. The materials-research community has taken a number of initial steps to achieve this vision, including the release of an OSTP-, NSF-, and NIST-supported MGI Combinatorial Report advocating for new tool sets that would open up a much larger scale of materials property data than is available today, and the first ever materials hackathon – organized by Citrine and hosted by the Materials Research Society – showcasing the tremendous opportunities to innovate with open data. Federal agencies have also stepped up to support new data repositories for the materials community, including the Materials Project for novel batteries, DOE’s hydrogen storage materials database, and the AFLOWLIB.org repository for quantum materials.

These are important first steps in shifting the conversation from whether data should be shared to how data will be shared. But more must be done to make materials science data openly available as fuel for innovation, growth, and discoveries. The Federal government is stepping up to this challenge, and has been working with agencies across government to finalize plans to increase public access to the results of Federally funded research, including both scientific publications and research data, across the broad range of scientific disciplines – including materials science.  In a recent report to Congress, OSTP Director John P. Holdren explained the Administration’s position, stating: “That data underlying scientific publications are not available for confirmatory analysis, reuse, and repurposing is an anachronism that we aim to address.” In essence, policy is being used as a tool to drive the conversation on what the materials community needs in terms of infrastructure and standards for data sharing. OSTP is encouraged to see such steps starting to happen.

Recently, several scientific journals have stepped up and announced actions to further increase access to the data underlying the conclusions in peer-reviewed scientific publications, including:

  • Earlier this week, thirteen advanced material journals, including: Acta BiomaterialiaActa Materialia, CALPHADComposites Part AComputational Materials ScienceConstruction and Building MaterialsMaterials DiscoveryMaterials Science & Engineering A, Materials Science & Engineering BMaterials Science & Engineering CPolymerScripta Materialia, and Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells announced that they will enable new data services for their contributing authors. This includes submission of data points which turn into interactive graphs, the ability to share data sets alongside their articles using a tool called Open Data, and the ability to submit a microarticle that describes data associated with their article. In 2014, the participating journals published 7500 articles, authored by tens of thousands of researchers based in over 95 countries.
  • Integrating Materials and Manufacturing Innovation, published by the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (TMS), is now providing an Open Access platform for the presentation of novel efforts seeking to build an integrated engineering framework to solve a pervasive or recurring need in materials and manufacturing. Datasets submitted in support of articles will be archived at a data repository run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). For this journal TMS has also introduced a "Data Descriptor" article type specifically geared to materials data.

Over the course of the coming year Federal agencies will continue work to open access to research data and provide robust solutions to data storage and services.

Cyrus Wadia is Assistant Director for Clean Energy and Materials R&D at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Michael Stebbins is Assistant Director for Biotechnology at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.