Big Ideas About Materials of the Universe

The Materials of the Universe Workshop brought together experts from astrophysics, planetary science, physics, chemistry, biology, materials science and engineering to define grand questions and challenges in the combined fields of materials research and planetary science.

The Materials of the Universe (MOTU) Workshop brought together 55 experts from astrophysics, planetary science, physics, chemistry, biology, materials science and engineering at Arizona State University in Tempe, USA from 24-26 April 2019. The aim was to define grand questions and challenges in the combined fields of materials research and planetary science for the coming decade. Participants sought to reveal new and unanticipated questions about the constitution of the universe, which can best be answered by the collective knowledge and imagination of astrophysicists and exoplanetary scientists, geochemists and materials scientists, quantum mechanical and macroscale theorists, and large-scale mission planners and project engineers. The Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) and Arizona State University co-sponsored the workshop, which engaged a strong contingent of DCO members.

Alexandra Navrotsky, an active member of DCO’s Extreme Physics and Chemistry Community, recently announced that she will return to ASU to head a new Center for Materials of the Universe, which she discussed in her opening remarks at the workshop. The first half of the three-day meeting was devoted to review talks on: (1) planets near and far; (2) space exploration and technological needs; (3) life, evolution, sustainability, and our place in the universe; (4) fundamental physics, chemistry, and materials science; and (5) computational approaches. The agenda was designed to provide sufficient background to the participants for exploring new approaches and directions in studying materials of the universe.  

David Stevenson (Caltech) and Steven Desch (ASU) gave review talks on recent observations of exoplanets and solar system planets and important questions that should be addressed through materials research. James Bell (ASU) and Gustavo Costa (NASA) presented challenges in material development for remote sensing, space exploration and aerospace engineering. Robert Hazen (Carnegie Institution for Science), Everett Shock (ASU), Hilairy Hartnett (ASU), Ariel Anbar (ASU), and Gary Dirks (ASU) discussed organic and inorganic materials near the surface of planets and the importance of contributions from materials research. Remaining scientific talks reviewed recent developments in materials research that may be important for exploring the extremely wide parameter space of exoplanets. Scott Sayres (ASU), Dan Shim (ASU), Andrew Chizmeshya (ASU), and Mark Ghiorso (OFM Research) also gave presentations.

During the second half of the meeting, the participants formed four breakout groups to discuss important short-term and long-term research goals and strategies for MOTU, some of which will help propel the next decade of deep carbon science. The meeting concluded with brainstorming about opportunities for developing research collaborative programs and identifying possible support opportunities for the MOTU center. The findings and plans are being consolidated and a forthcoming white paper will address grand questions and challenges.

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