IRI Intros: 5 Questions with David McDowell

Primary tabs

You’ve probably heard that Georgia Tech has a number of Interdisciplinary Research Institutes (IRIs) – but do you know much about them? 

This article is the next in a series of Q&As to introduce the Tech community to the nine IRIs and their faculty leaders. In this installment, Executive Director David McDowell answers questions about the newly launched Georgia Tech Institute for Materials (IMat).

What is the impact of materials research?

Many of the technological advances that have transformed our world over the past 20 years have been founded on the developments of materials research. The benefits of these advances are evident in many of the products and technologies that have become so much a part of our everyday lives: our vehicles; the machines and efficient products in our homes, offices, and schools; the computers and phones we can’t live without; lifesaving medical technology; and much more. Materials research is focused both on discovering new materials as well as understanding how existing materials behave in new and enhanced products. Improved understanding enables us to better leverage the capabilities of known materials to make them safer, more convenient, efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable. This knowledge is critical to our continued growth in a competitive global economy and to addressing the 21st century’s grand challenges in energy, sustainability, health, security, mobility, communications, and other areas.  

The Obama administration’s 2011 launch of the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) further underscores the importance of materials research and is helping to drive increased focus and innovation within materials research and education. Designed to facilitate greater collaboration across the advanced materials workforce – including federal agencies, industry, professional societies, and academia – the MGI aims to double the rate and halve the cost of discovering, developing, and deploying new and improved materials into products. As a leading materials research university, Georgia Tech will play an integral role in the MGI.


Describe some areas of Georgia Tech materials research.

Materials research at Georgia Tech is comprehensive, addressing the major technologies that can improve our lives in the next century and beyond. It ranges from advances in polymers and macromolecules, to nanostructures and materials for nano-engineered devices, to functional photonic and electronic materials, to composites and advanced structural materials.

How is Georgia Tech helping to advance materials research?

Accelerating the rate of discovery and development of new and improved materials requires unprecedented levels of coordination between materials processing and synthesis, characterization, experimental methods for structure-property relations, computational materials science, physics and chemistry, design and information, and data sciences.  

The Georgia Tech Institute for Materials (IMat) was launched in June 2013 to foster the collaborative interdisciplinary linkages necessary to achieve this level of coordination. This includes developing the partnerships with national labs, industry, and other academic institutions that are essential for success in today’s large-scale materials research and development environment. Operating as an Interdisciplinary Research Institute (IRI) under the umbrella of the Executive Vice President for Research at Georgia Tech, IMat supports and connects materials-related research across all colleges and academic units at Georgia Tech, as well as at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, while fostering a network of industry, government, and academic research laboratories across the nation. Through this collaborative network, IMat aims to facilitate information sharing, build on existing knowledge, and move materials innovation beyond the experience of single investigators to the broader materials research community where advances can be more rapidly applied to product design and manufacturing. IMat will also serve as an Institute-wide bridge organization that will connect materials research with important application domains such as energy, manufacturing, bioengineering and biosciences, and nanotechnology.


How is IMat furthering Georgia Tech’s education mission?

The level of integration required to achieve the goals of the MGI and the next generation of materials research and development will demand corresponding evolution in the way materials-related courses are taught in various disciplines. In addition, new modes of education collaboration that bring together elements of design, informatics, and data sciences with the materials sciences will become increasingly important to support innovation – a Georgia Tech hallmark.

Innovation isn’t just about generating ideas. It is also about engaging a broader community in the materials discovery and development process. IMat was designed with this vision in mind. Connecting distinguished faculty, renowned research centers, and state-of-the-art laboratories and facilities across Georgia Tech, IMat emphasizes an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. One way IMat will engage the materials community is through the development of exploratory Web-based collaboration tools for materials. IMat will also support engagement in materials research and education both within Georgia Tech and the broader research community through a variety of educational, social, and networking opportunities.

IMat will host a series of workshops for students and faculty throughout the year, as well as selected workshops that will engage industry, national laboratories, and other universities in high-opportunity areas of large-scale, collaborative research. In addition, as a southeastern ambassador for the MGI, IMat will host MGI-related workshops in the coming academic year that will bring together academia, industry, and government. To learn more about upcoming events, visit IMat’s website at:


What do you envision for the future of IMat and materials-related research?

Future economic competiveness demands that we better marshal our collaborative forces in preparing materials, quantifying their structure, measuring properties and responses to various stimuli, predicting their structure and properties, creating digital representations (or “fingerprints”) of materials from the atomic level up, and engaging information and data sciences to facilitate their implementation into high performance, sustainable products. Materials research in the future will increasingly transcend traditional disciplinary silos. It will engage faculty and students from various engineering disciplines, materials science, chemistry and physics, creating a more comprehensive research framework that will also include computing and information sciences, manufacturing, public policy, and other complementary areas. Strengthening these connections with an eye on the future is a major focus of IMat.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Kirk Englehardt
  • Created:07/25/2013
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016