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Evan Reed: How to discover a magic material

Want to build a better battery, a stronger airplane, or a faster computer? A materials science expert says your success starts in the atomic structure of the materials you choose.

A digital illustration of big data in wavy lines

The future of materials science lies at the heart of a computer algorithm. | Adobe Stock/ingara

Evan Reed and a team of scientists recently identified a promising solid material that could replace highly flammable liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries.

The trick? Reed didn’t discover the material the old-fashioned way, using trial and error to narrow down a list of candidates. Instead, he used computers to do the legwork for him. He says that until recent advances in computer science, the seemingly never-ending search for new materials was more like a quest for unicorns. Breakthrough materials must possess that rarest of combinations: precise physical characteristics with few if any downsides.

It’s exacting and time-consuming work, Reed says, but computers are accelerating the pace of discovery. He now believes the future of materials science lies at the heart of a computer algorithm, as he tells listeners in this episode of Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everything podcast. Listen and subscribe here.