I was recently reading my copy of The Economist and there was this reference to the Materials Genome Project:
The 30,000-compound question
At the moment the process of finding better electrode materials is haphazard, but Dr [Gerbrand Ceder, a battery scientist at MIT,] proposes to make it systematic. Over the centuries, chemists have discovered about 30,000 inorganic chemical compounds (those that are not based around carbon skeletons), almost any of which might theoretically be suitable material for an electrode. Examining the relevant properties of all of them in the laboratory is out of the question, but Dr Ceder thinks he has found a short cut. He is involved in something called the materials genome project, which takes the known properties of inorganic compounds and turns them into extremely sophisticated computer models. These models are able to calculate the quantum-mechanical properties of the chemicals they are mimicking—and they seem to get it right. When Dr Ceder has checked the predictions for hitherto untested materials by conducting real experiments, he has found that the results coincide.
It’s a brilliant idea! I would love to see them try a distributed computing approach to speed things up and keep costs down. Since potential benefits to humanity are so great, they wouldn’t have problem finding volunteers to donate CPU cycles.
Update: I have received a email from Dr Gerbrand Ceder, the man mentioned in the Economist piece, and apparently the website that I originally linked is for a different project with the same name. I’ve removed it to avoid confusion.