By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office
When Dr. Taylor Sparks arrived at the University of Utah as an undergraduate, he wanted to study just about everything. “I wanted to do chemistry, and I wanted to do physics, and I wanted to do mechanics, and robotics,” Sparks says. “There was no one department that let you do all those things. At least that’s what I thought.”
Then Sparks found Materials Science. “I was just elated,” he says. “It is like the broadest department on the planet; it allows you to study all the things.”
Sparks, who is now an Associate Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the U, researches sustainable materials for energy applications, and explores new synthetic techniques and structure-property relationships that balance performance with economic factors. He will give a GCSC Seminar on his research and its implications for sustainability—called “Why does humanity need new energy materials, and where will we find them?”—on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at 4 p.m.
“There’s been a revolution in all fields, but certainly in Materials Science,” Sparks says. “The whole premise behind data science or materials informatics, which is what I do, is that…we could do a lot less physical experiments, and that’s going to use fewer resources.”
But Sparks explains that even the computational cost of data science has become significant. “The amount of electricity and power that goes into this is definitely no longer trivial and it can be critical and even limiting in some places,” he says. “We started out saying ‘hey, data science is going to fix the problem with resource usage in high throughput experimentation.’ And you run the risk now of going too far the other way and it being actually resource intensive in terms of energy.”
Sparks builds custom data science tools that are responsive to these challenges and that identify new materials that can transform the way we generate and store energy. He believes that materials informatics will change materials discovery for the better.
“Even though we face truly daunting challenges and energy problems, we have a cool new tool that never existed before, which I think can help us solve them,” Sparks says. Tune in on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. to learn more about the role of Materials Science in alternative energy and sustainability.