The ultimate challenge is to scale the understanding up from the nano level to the macro and therefore create opportunities for practical application. Every time you change the scale of a material, the properties change, so what might be hailed as a metal that is 30,000 times stronger than steel, may only be so at the molecular level. As soon as you produce a tonne of it, for example, the material’s behaviour changes.
So, it’s important to be able to model the material’s behaviour and this requires enormous amounts of computer processing power. BP’s university and laboratory manager for operations, HSSE and engineering, Sheetal Handa, has had ﬁrst-hand experience of this leap in processing ability. “Fifteen years ago, as an academic, one of my tasks was to scan the structure of proteins to look at how they worked. It used to take me weeks. With the latest computer, I can now do that in about 10 minutes. I can also conduct hundreds of thousands of experiments in one go and use data analytics to look at the billions of pieces of data they produce to try and pick out patterns.”
Universities are at the cutting edge of these technologies, so BP reasoned that academic partnership was vital for the industry to create true advances in materials science. Each of the four universities in the BP-ICAM went through a rigorous selection process and was chosen for its core strengths in materials science. It is BP-ICAM’s aim that all four will work collaboratively, sharing data, technology and personnel to create the strongest opportunity to advance industry understanding.