NAISE Featured in Northwestern University Research Newsletter

Jun 2, 2015 | News, News from Northwestern

A human heart will beat 750 million times throughout the average lifespan of an artificial valve. During this 15- to 20-year period, the prosthetic’s frame can become fatigued, crack, and fail, with potentially deadly consequences.

“Identifying a better, longer-lasting material for these devices — using a systems design approach — is the type of research the Center for Hierarchical Materials Design (CHiMaD) was created to support,” says Greg Olson, materials science and engineering and CHiMaD co-director.

CHiMaD is a Chicago-based consortium led by Northwestern with funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It represents a major collaborative point for the Northwestern-Argonne Institute of Science and Engineering (NAISE).

“The ability to team with CHiMaD is essential as we further develop our novel shape memory alloy (SMA) design for heart valve frames,” says Dana Frankel, a fifth-year PhD student in Olson’s research group. “We are trying to design a material for valve frames that contains less nickel (a semi-common allergen) and is more fatigue resistant so that it lasts longer in the body without failure.”

SMAs are a class of materials increasingly used in medicine because they can be reduced in size, allowing them to be inserted via catheter, before returning to their functional form when heated by the body’s internal temperature.

“This type of research exemplifies the benefit of having Northwestern, Argonne, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) coming together to support investigators,” says Peter Voorhees, materials science and engineering, CHiMaD co-director, and NAISE co-director. Pete Beckman, senior computer scientist at Argonne, is the other NAISE co-director. “For NAISE, the focus to date has been on building these joint research efforts.”

Following President Barack Obama’s Materials Genome Initiative, a policy meant to allow for faster discovery, design, and deployment of advanced materials at a fraction of current costs, NAISE helped create CHiMaD in 2014.

Today, the center is part of a larger network of collaborations between Northwestern and Argonne. (Read about the University’s work with the Advanced Proton Source in our September and January newsletters).

Since launching in 2011, NAISE has expanded opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to perform research at Argonne under the joint direction of national lab researchers and Northwestern professors. It also enables Argonne’s top scientists and engineers to interact more easily with Northwestern faculty.

In less than three years, NAISE has been awarded grants totaling more than $25 million. The partnership has also led to 34 joint institute fellows and 20 joint-faculty appointments, at present.

“This free-flow exchange of ideas wasn’t something that was regularly occurring before NAISE,” Voorhees says. “We’ve advanced that process, allowing Argonne researchers to be included on Northwestern-led grant proposals and vice versa. The result is a greater likelihood that a project will be funded.”


The successful exchange of researchers between Argonne, NIST, and Northwestern created the need for recently renovated facilities in Hogan to accommodate visiting investigators at the University.

“Students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty now can move back and forth more easily between these institutions, creating greater potential for enriched collaborative efforts,” Voorhees says. “For our students, these connections help provide an experience of what life is like in a federal national lab (NIST), Department of Energy national lab (Argonne), and the academic environment.”

NAISE Featured in Northwestern University Research Newsletter