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Graduate Seminar Nov. 8, 2021: Taylor Sparks

Why does humanity need new energy materials, and where will we find them?

Materials Informatics will enable the rapid discovery and deployment of new materials needed for a sustainable energy future.

The materials available to mankind have always been the defining factor in dictating technological advances. Humans have progressed through the stone age to the bronze, iron, steel, and silicon ages with steady improvement in the quality of life across the globe. However, as we enter the 21st century humankind also faces unique challenges. Our reliance on fossil energy has unleashed remarkable industrial progress, but at the cost of a substantial negative impact on the environment as well as unequal impacts on different sectors of society. If we are to continue to enjoy the comforts of modern technology while spreading them to developing nations and preventing adverse ecological and societal impacts, it will be imperative that we transform the ways in which we generate and store energy. This will require the discovery of new energy materials.

In this talk, I will provide an overview of how materials have been discovered historically and how materials informatics is providing a radical new approach to materials discovery that can dramatically reduce the cost and time associated with materials discovery. I will discuss this in the context of several energy-related technologies including thermoelectrics, nuclear reactors, and advanced manufacturing. The talk will go beyond describing data science approaches for screening from among known materials to also include generative machine learning approaches for finding entirely new materials. Finally, I will describe ways to incorporate new resource metrics alongside performance metrics for a more complete sustainability analysis of new materials

Dr. Sparks is an Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Utah. He is originally from Utah and an alumni of the department he now teaches in. Before graduate school he worked at Ceramatec Inc. He did his MS in Materials at UCSB and his PhD in Applied Physics at Harvard University and then did a postdoc in the Materials Research Laboratory at UCSB. He is currently the Director of the ReUSE REU at the University of Utah and teaches classes on ceramics, materials science, characterization, and technology commercialization. His current research centers on the discovery, synthesis, characterization, and properties of new materials for energy applications. He is a pioneer in the emerging field of materials informatics whereby big data, data mining, and machine learning are leveraged to solve challenges in materials science. He was a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award and a speaker for TEDxSaltLakeCity. When he’s not in the lab you can find him running his podcast “Materialism” or canyoneering with his 4 kids in southern Utah.