Structural Materials

The Materials Department has an internationally renowned research program in Structural Materials. Research agendas are driven by critical national and international needs in the areas of energy, transportation, aerospace and security. Research focuses on emerging high-temperature and lightweight materials (including advanced oxides, carbides, and metallic alloys along with protective coatings), biological and bio-inspired materials, as well as novel multilayered, fibrous and hybrid architectures that provide new functionalities.  

Structural Materials at UCSB has long been known for its multidisciplinary approach, strong collaborations with Mechanical Engineering and successful multi-investigator programs (such as MURI, GOALI, DMREF) . The programs integrate new computational schemes and advanced experimental techniques in order to guide discovery, development and synthesis of new materials. They also address material performance at the systems level in power generation and propulsion systems, energy storage devices, hypersonic flight vehicles, blast and ballistic resistant structures, and nuclear reactor environments.  

Research Themes in Structural Materials

Integrated Materials Computation

An emerging area for structural materials research is the ab-initio design of materials with controlled properties.  The chemistry, physics and mechanics phenomena involved demand a broad suite of computational techniques and the ability to integrate these techniques to predict properties across extremely broad length scales and time scales.  Emerging approaches that couple first principles (density functional theory) calculations with statistical mechanical and micromechanical phenomena are now capable of predicting fundamental properties such as bond strengths, chemical potentials and atomic mobilities.  These properties are essential inputs to micro-scale finite element and thermodynamic codes that predict phenomena such as interface adhesion, interdiffusion and phase equilibria.

Advanced Composites, Multilayered Systems and Hybrid Materials Architectures

Hybrid combinations of polymers, ceramics and metals assembled into designed structural elements such as Kagome lattices, truss structures, sandwich panels, or zero thermal expansion structures have the potential to achieve properties that greatly exceed those of monolithic materials.  Research in this area focuses on structural and topological optimization, mapping of property space and synthesis approaches for advanced architectures.

Materials for Sustainability and Advanced Manufacturing 

Future needs for clean energy technologies, including thermoelectrics, batteries, fuel cells and advanced turbines powered by natural gas and alternative fuels, are motivating discovery of a suite of new materials. Materials of interest include lightweight alloys designed for improved resistance to creep, impact, fatigue or corrosion as well as protective coatings to enable operation in extreme environments. Additional foci include emerging additive and nano-manufacturing technologies, non-equilibrium processing approaches, rapid deployment of alternatives to “critical” materials (i.e. those having high economic importance and high supply risk), as well as recycling, remanufacturing and re-use.

 3D and 4D Materials Science 

Predicting and characterizing structure in 4D – from the nanoscale to the mesoscale and over time scales ranging from picoseconds to years – will be essential for rapid deployment of new materials into advanced engineering systems.  Research in this area focuses on innovative instrumentation for 3D tomography with the requisite spatial and temporal resolution, new in-situ testing approaches, advanced diagnostics, as well as techniques to effectively and efficiently collect, integrate, analyze and share terabyte-scale datasets. Materials systems of interest include amorphous alloys, advanced metallics, ceramics and nanocrystalline materials, with an emphasis on the role of defects and interfaces.