Baylor Professor to Advance New Generation of Metal Alloys as Part of $12.5 Million Department of Energy Research Center

Garritt J. Tucker, Ph.D., The Eula Mae and John Baugh Chair in Physics, is part of a multi-institution partnership in a Stewardship Science Academic Alliances Center of Excellence to test materials under extreme conditions

May 22, 2024
Baylor professor Garritt Tucker stands in his materials science engineering lab

Garritt Tucker, Ph.D., stands in his materials science and design lab at Baylor's interdisciplinary Point-of-Need Innovations Center in the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC). (Matthew Minard/Baylor University)

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WACO, Texas (May 22, 2024) – Garritt J. Tucker, Ph.D., who joined the Baylor University faculty in fall 2023 as the inaugural Eula Mae and John Baugh Chair in Physics, is part of a multi-institution, interdisciplinary effort to discover new materials and create innovative pathways for advancing materials performance under extreme conditions. The $12.5 million research team was funded through the Department of Energy (DOE) for the next five years.

Tucker will work alongside colleagues at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Colorado School of Mines, the University of California-Santa Barbara and Northwestern University as part of a Stewardship Science Academic Alliance Center of Excellence to test existing, and develop future, materials in novel ways to improve their effectiveness under extreme conditions, such as those needed for space exploration. 

Nine such centers were funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) within the DOE, and this program was awarded when Tucker was a faculty member at the Colorado School of Mines. He brings this interdisciplinary collaboration and funding to his Baylor research group, the Computational Materials Science and Design group, and the Point-of-Need Innovation (PONI) Center, where Ph.D. students in both Physics and Materials Science students will have the opportunity to join the project and grow the University’s burgeoning advanced materials research and scholarship program.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with other leading scientists across multiple academic institutions and within Los Alamos National Laboratory. This significant research program funded by the DOE-NNSA will enable the team to probe the fundamental scientific issues related to advancing the development of future materials for extreme environments in a more complete way.” Tucker said. “As we develop new capabilities and tools, while revealing basic materials science knowledge for future alloys, we are also excited for the chance to collaborate with leading materials science institutions and build partnerships that will also advance Baylor’s research direction and develop future scientists.” 

The grant will advance scientific research through supporting students, internships, postdoctoral researchers, visiting scientists and national laboratory partnerships within the member institutions. 

“We are very pleased to have recruited Garritt Tucker to come to Baylor from the Colorado School of Mines. Dr. Tucker came to us with a strong record of building partnerships that enable him to lead large teams tackling massive challenges,” Provost Nancy Brickhouse, Ph.D., said. “He has quickly built partnerships with other scientists and engineers here at Baylor as well as at other universities and national labs to build new metallic alloys that can withstand extreme conditions, including those in space.”

A new generation of metal alloys

Each of the new centers of excellence will focus on extreme condition performance from a distinct angle. Tucker is part of a center called “Advanced Characterization of Metals under Extreme Environments,” led by the Colorado School of Mines. At Baylor and in conjunction with research partners, Tucker and his research group, composed of both graduate and undergraduate students as well as research scientists, will address this particular challenge of interest to the NNSA. 

“Emerging technologies and capabilities will require new alloys for the decades ahead that demonstrate unprecedented performance in extreme environments,” Tucker said. “While we can learn much from the current generation of materials, the goal is to develop the research methodology needed for future metallic alloy design built on predictive science capabilities integrated with advanced characterization techniques to quantify governing principles starting from the nanoscale. 

“At Baylor we will be using modern supercomputers to simulate materials response under extreme conditions that are difficult to study in reality, while mapping molecular physics. In doing so, we not only can reveal atomic-level behavior that governs materials performance under extreme conditions, but we will illuminate design strategies for future metallic alloys”

Examples of such extreme environments include high temperature, shock, blast waves, radiation or other challenges. 

Researchers will alter the structure of currently available materials to change the ways they respond to, and perform within, extreme conditions. As a part of this approach, Tucker and his colleagues will develop new capabilities and approaches to the study and characterization of advanced materials for future benefit.

“It is our hope that through this research program, working with other leading materials scientists over the next five years, we will have an impact for decades down the road for the next generation of materials,” Tucker said. “We should have a whole new understanding of advanced alloys and achieve unprecedented performance through predictive science and advanced characterization approaches.”

A second focus of the project –  workforce development – will enable Tucker and collaborators to recruit, train and mentor a new generation of scientists and deepen partnerships between the member institutions and national laboratories.

Advancing materials science efforts at Baylor

At Colorado School of Mines, Tucker established a national reputation as an innovative materials science researcher and teacher, with a nationally recognized research portfolio in the design, development and behavior of advanced materials through atomic modeling and multiscale simulations. While there, he mentored dozens of students, many of whom went on to work at national research laboratories.

Tucker holds professional society memberships with the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society, Materials Research Society, American Physical Society and American Society of Mechanical Engineers. In addition, he served on the editorial board for Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing) and as a reviewer for Nature, Scientific Advances, Nano Letters and other top materials science and materials physics journals.

Materials science has been an area of academic focus at Baylor University since its inclusion in Illuminate, the University’s strategic plan. The appointment of Tucker to The Eula Mae and John Baugh Chair in Physics represented an important step in the further development of research, scholarship and programming opportunities available to future Baylor students in the field of Materials Science and Advanced Manufacturing.

“Bringing large, multi-university awards to campus such as Dr. Tucker’s NNSA grant is just one of the many benefits we have enjoyed by creating new endowed chairs at Baylor,” said Lee Nordt, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “We are grateful to Dr. Tucker for the role he has played in securing this important source of funding, which will go towards creating the next generation of research related to materials science.”


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