UB's NYS Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics: Innovation Snapshot

Dr. Sarbajit Banerjee in his laboratory.

Published April 29, 2013

Exciting innovations under development in UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics (CMI), which was established with an initial round of $200,000 from New York State in March 2012.

“CMI is helping UB to be more responsive to the innovation needs of the regional manufacturing industry...”
Dr. Sarbajit Banerjee, Associate Professor
University at Buffalo

A machine learning system that can automatically scan through millions of scientific articles and answer critical questions for materials discovery. “Smart windows” that block heat when it is warm outside and let in heat when it is cold. Nanotechnology that creates materials for lightweight body armor, and holographic rainbow gratings for anti-counterfeiting. These are some of the exciting innovations under development in UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics (CMI), which was established with an initial round of $200,000 from New York State in March 2012.

Dr. Sarbajit Banerjee, associate professor of chemistry, co-directs the CMI with Mark Swihart, PhD, professor of chemical and biological engineering and director of UB’s Strategic Strength in Integrated Nanostructured Systems. Dr. Banerjee, developer of the “smart windows” project, was named one of the world’s top innovators under the age of 35 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review magazine. Since joining UB in 2007, his program has built relationships with industry and government partners including SEMATECH, Tata Steel, Lockheed Martin, Brookhaven National Laboratory and more. He notes the importance of CMI in furthering both his research, and efforts to bring them out in the world.

According to Dr. Banerjee, “In advancing the commercial applications of the metal-insulator switching of binary and ternary vanadium oxide nanowires in smart windows, memristive devices, and solar roofing, we are partnering with companies ranging from local startups to global corporations. The Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics is the home of this research and is facilitating the development of partnerships with industry and serving to incubate a startup venture that is being launched around this technology.”

This is precisely the CMI’s mission:  To advance the state of the art while driving economic development through commercialization and industry partnerships.  UB intends for CMI to give Western New York companies a competitive advantage, by creating high-technology jobs and attracting new industries to the region. Fifty UB faculty members are already engaged in materials science research, and NYSUNY2020 will make it possible to hire at least 25 more.

While UB intends to construct or rehab a facility for CMI, the Center currently takes advantage of existing university facilities, and has hired a full-time business development executive with its initial round of funding.  CMI recently received $500,000 in operating funds as part of the 2013-2014 state budget.

One of the existing UB facilities critical to CMI’s  cutting edge research is the Center for Computational Research (CCR), a supercomputing center headquartered in UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences. CCR features a state-of-the-art, 4,000-square-foot machine room that includes a Linux cluster with more than 8,000 processor cores and QDR Infiniband interconnect.

“In a broader sense,” Banerjee adds, “CMI is helping UB to be more responsive to the innovation needs of the regional manufacturing industry, providing test beds and analytical instrumentation to help industrial innovation, linking UB researchers to local and national industrial partners, providing a pathway for rapid technology transfer and licensing of innovations discovered by UB researchers, and growing the regional innovation ecosystem. UB has a tremendous range of technical expertise in materials science, informatics, and manufacturing. By linking faculty researchers to local industry, we are providing our industrial partners access to state-of-the-art innovation, helping them to directly address pressing problems, accelerating the product innovation cycle, and bringing together consortia that can build shared infrastructure to facilitate innovation. UB students will directly benefit from a closer relationship to industry by being exposed to current industrial needs and through access to internships, collaborative research projects, and job opportunities.”

Dr. Venu Govindaraju, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, who is spearheading the informatics component of CMI, led the development of the handwriting recognition system that has already saved the U.S. Postal Service hundreds of millions of dollars. He writes of his own work with the CMI, “Machine learning techniques such as those used in the postal system can be used to distill actionable summaries of research from large collections of scientific documents. This can result in advances such as the discovery of new compounds, formulation and refinement of new theories for materials behavior, and prediction of structure and addressing questions such as: Given a database of known materials, which material has properties that are most unique or most like a known one?  Or, can materials be clustered into sets based on property similarities so as to discover useful patterns?  While techniques to answer such queries are gaining significance in other scientific areas, they are still in the nascent stage in the field of materials science. UB will also be graduating students trained in these research areas to support the needs of this industry. Thus, the research at CMI is clearly primed to facilitate a virtuous cycle of economic growth in the Western New York area, centered around UB.”