New $3 million National Science Foundation center aims to connect materials data science research to industry

The MDS-Rely team (from left): Roger French, Laura Bruckman, Satish Iyengar, Paul Leu and Liza Allison

Case Western Reserve, University of Pittsburgh launch MDS-Rely Center to make industrial materials more reliable and develop skilled manufacturing workforce  

Case Western Reserve University and the University of Pittsburgh will launch a joint center this fall that uses cutting edge data-science and materials research to help companies make more reliable and durable products. 

The Center for Materials Data Science for Reliability and Degradation (MDS-Rely) is a $3 million center supported by a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the remainder from fees paid by member companies and other organizations, such as government agency labs.

The MDS-Rely Center aims to produce breakthrough research that also benefits the U.S. economy by linking industry innovators, government agency labs and a world-class, multidisciplinary academic team. The Center also plans to help prepare skilled workers and provide employment opportunities for Case Western Reserve and Pitt students and graduates.

In Cleveland, the Case Western Reserve Center is led by Roger French, the Kyocera Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Case School of Engineering. In Pittsburgh, the site is led by Paul Leu, BP America Faculty Fellow and associate professor of industrial engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering.

“Right now, there is a digital transformation happening known as Industry 4.0, where companies are interested in gathering lots of data and using that data to make better and more-informed decisions,” French said. “This transformation is driven by new capabilities in data science, computing and statistics. Our center seeks to apply these methods to better understand how and why materials degrade and use this knowledge to extend their lifetimes.”

The new center is a research extension of ongoing work at Pitt and Case Western Reserve, where French is also director of the Solar Durability and Lifetime Extension (SDLE) Research Center. The SDLE center also focuses on degradation science and designing better, longer-lasting materials and systems.

The MDS-Rely Center, leaning on the combined research power of some 40 faculty members from both institutions, will work with partners to understand how a material’s structural, electronic, chemical and optical properties change over time, informing both what the materials can do and how their function will change over time. 

“This work not only allows us to understand how long these materials can last in certain products, but can enable us to neutralize degradation mechanisms and extend the lifetime of various products,” added Leu. “So, for example, instead of using a product for five years, perhaps we can use it for 30 years.”

MDS-Rely has a dozen committed members, some of which have already joined. It expects to continue growing each year as additional organizations join. 

Opportunities for industry and academia

The MDS-Rely team (from left): Roger French, Laura Bruckman, Satish Iyengar, Paul Leu and Liza Allison.


The work of MDS-Rely will give industry and government partners opportunities to gain from pre-competitive research and science-based improvements.

One of the Center’s primary goals is to help industry become more efficient—especially in costly fabrication materials. The industrial and government lab partners would also be able to recruit researchers and students from the two universities.

It also offers the universities a new vehicle to accelerate the impact of basic research and a way to expose aspiring researchers to real-world applications of their work.

French is joined in leading the Center at Case Western Reserve by Laura Bruckman, associate research professor of materials science and engineering, and Jonathan Steirer, who will serve as Managing Director of MDS-Rely. 

Satish Iyengar, professor and chair of the Department of Statistics, and MDS-Rely Industry Liaison Officer, Liza Allison, also program administrator at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Advanced Manufacturing (UPCAM), join Leu in leading the Pitt site. 

The Center is also supported by the UPCAM and Case Western Reserve’s Great Lakes Energy Institute (GLEI). It is part of the NSF’s Industry–University Cooperative Research Centers (IUCRC) program created in 1973.

For more information, visit and follow the center on Twitter @mdsrely.

Interested organizations can reach out to

For more information, contact Mike Scott at