What sets Iowa State University apart in the world of big data is a campus-wide integration of data science with the nature of the data, including chemistry, the shape and form of materials, the technologies used to make them, and how those materials will be used.

“How to glue all of that together is really what we’re doing and that’s why the science, the mathematics, and the computational tools have to be very carefully integrated,” said Krishna Rajan, professor of materials science and engineering at Iowa State.

Rajan leads a team that has developed sophisticated big data tools that shrink discovery from decades to months. The effort already has led to the discovery of new drug-delivery materials, new materials to generate solar energy, new alloys for jet engines that will allow planes to travel faster and be more fuel efficient, and techniques to adapt plants to widely varied weather and climate conditions.

“If we want to make any further advances, we need to come up with new materials and we don’t have 30 years to do it,” said Rajan. “We are literally digging our way through our natural resources at a rate that is unsustainable.” He noted that more iron is in recycled waste than can be found in the ground.

The approach has been applied to design new drug-delivery material for vaccines, high-temperature alloys for jet engines, and new materials for microelectric sensors. It also has helped Iowa State University scientists identify DNA sequences that can be triggered in plants to increase crop production, disease resistance, and drought tolerance.

“We have pretty well accelerated the process for finding new materials by a factor of two, three, or even more of going from looking at what we know to going to a space of knowledge that we never would have found before very quickly,” says Rajan.

Destination 2050 brings into focus the enormous capabilities and global recognition of Iowa State University to meet the challenges of the next generation. Our big data-driven breakthroughs today will lead to more breakthroughs in the months and years to come.