Making Materials Science and Engineering Data More Valueable Research Products

Charles H. Ward1, James A. Warren2, Robert J. Hanisch3

  1. Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH

  2. National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD

  3. Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD


Both the global research community and federal governments are embracing a move toward more open sharing of the products of research. Historically, the primary product of research has been the peer-reviewed journal article for fundamental research and government technical report for applied research and engineering for government sponsored research. However, advances in information technology, new “open access” business models, and government policies are working to make publications and supporting materials much more accessible to the general public. These same drivers are obscuring the distinction between the data generated through the course of research and the associated publications. These developments have the potential to significantly enhance the value of both publications and the supporting digital research data, turning them into valuable assets that can be shared and reused by other researchers. The confluence of these shifts in the research landscape leads one to the conclusion that technical publications and their supporting research data must become bound together in a rational fashion. However, bringing these two research products together will require establishment of new policies and a supporting data infrastructure that have essentially no precedent in the materials community, and indeed are stressing many other fields of research. This document raises the key issues that must be addressed in developing these policies and infrastructure, and suggests a path forward in creating the solutions.


materials data, data policy, data repository, ICME, MGI, Integrated Computational Materials Engineering, Materials Genome Initiative, data archiving


Reliance on shared digital data in scientific and engineering pursuits—whether the data are derived from computation or experiment—is becoming more commonplace within the materials science and engineering (MSE) community. Concurrently, government policies across the globe are embracing an “open science” model which sets a requirement for sharing digital data generated from research. A recent MRS-TMS survey on “Big Data” in materials science and engineering showed 74% of respondents would be willing to participate in sharing their data if it was encouraged as a term and condition of funding or publishing, assuming the proper safeguards were in place.(TMS-MRS 2013) However, it is fair to say that the MSE community currently lacks the strategy, framework, and standards needed to support materials data curation and sharing. A unified approach is needed to meet the growing demands of the community and a plan to meet government mandated requirements for broad access to digital data. It is clear that the peer reviewed journals and government technical reports serving the MSE community can be an essential component to the solution and there is now an opportunity to proactively plan how they may best serve the growing needs of their constituency.