Materialism Podcast Interviews QuesTek Executive Vice President Market Operations Jason Sebastian

  • Post category:Blog

The Materialism Podcast — the leading podcast for the materials science community — features QuesTek president Jason Sebastian in its latest episode on the history and future of ICME. 

Hosts Dr. Taylor Sparks and Andrew Falkowski asked Jason to help guide their audience through the evolution of aviation materials — from wood, to custom alloys designed with cutting edge digital tools like ICMD®. 

Jason was also able to provide an overview of ICME and share some highlights and case studies from the past, present and future of QuesTek, particularly in the aviation materials space. Taylor also asked him about his academic background. 

Below are some key highlights from the conversation. 

Listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you listen to podcasts.  

Taylor: I was looking at your CV, and saw that you did a double degree in Ceramic Engineering and Philosophy. Good for you! Tell me about it.

I did. I was at the University of Illinois. I’m from Chicago and I started college a year young, so this idea of five years doing two degrees was not crazy. Philosophy intrigued me, of course I was searching for the answers of all the secrets of life and the meaning of life. It was fascinating, and it got me exposed to liberal arts education and made me a better writer and communicator. Ceramic engineering does not exist as a specific degree anymore at Illinois — I was the last breed of ceramic engineer, and it is now material science. But I moved into metallurgy mainly and characterization in graduate school, and that’s where I’ve been focused at QuesTek.

There has been a fascinating evolution of materials, and in all areas, but one of the really interesting case studies where we’ve seen it evolve dramatically over the last 100 years is aviation. Do you want to tell us about a brief history of aviation materials? 

Originally, metallurgy as a whole was kind of an empirical, almost accidental science. You go back to the Wright Brothers, right? That’s where aviation starts. They had some constraints on how heavy the airplane could be, or the engine, in fact, and how much horsepower had to be put out and it led them to the use of aluminum alloys. And they knew these aluminum copper alloys could get very strong, much stronger than regular aluminum. They did not discover these alloys, but the people that did sort of like accidentally stumbled upon them and everybody got excited and utilized them. This was sort of an empirical/accidental discovery age. (…) And it proceeds, but it doesn’t proceed, like you said, fast enough. And the need for new materials now and the need for new materials more rapidly, is greater than ever. That’s what has led to this current age of computational modeling and computational materials design.

Can you tell us a little about QuesTek, and your experience in using some of these tools to design materials and what is involved in the ICME process? Is that an analytical model, or is it CALPHAD? Or is it even broader than that?

It is broader, it is those things but broader. QuesTek was formed out of the research of Greg Olson, he was one of the co-founders from Northwestern. He was historically kind of a steel martensite expert, but he was looking at all scales of alloy modeling and even the martensite and steel experience led him to thermodynamics and CALPHAD. For QuesTek that’s kind of the foundation of how ICME works. It’s linking the process, structure, property and performance relationships in the middle of a material.

I get this impression that ICME is really aimed at metals. Clearly, it can be broader than that, but is it actually finding application beyond just metals and alloys?

Absolutely. QuesTek has done ceramics, for example. Some of the same thermodynamic databases can predict ceramics and phase stability in ceramics, and then you can come up with models of ceramic strength or hardness or toughness based on those phases. Another example is composite materials, where you have ceramic interacting with a metal or something like that. Full-blown polymer ICME is also starting to kind of get some legs. And QuesTek did a project on bubblegum for Wrigley going back 20 years or something. So yeah, ICME and materials design can be applied to things other than metals.

We have lots of listeners in all sorts of different spaces. If they’re hearing an episode like this, and they’re like, “this sounds like exactly the challenge that I face in my company,” you guys offer a package of tools that people can utilize to address their own challenges, right? 

That’s the history of QuesTek, the engagements and alloys that we’ve designed. But we’re currently going through a digital transformation ourselves, a pivot to a digital company. We’ve putting together all the tools and models that we developed over 25 years into a package that folks can use. It is called
ICMD®, and it stands for Integrated Computational Materials Design, which is sort of a combination of ICME plus Materials by Design®. A lot of the models I just talked about, such as grain boundary cohesion and phase stability and strength models across various alloys systems are part of this package, so folks can do what I’m describing. And I’m excited about that. We’ve done a lot of successful things ourselves, and we’ve helped companies do successful things, but now I think the workforce has matured to a point where there is knowledge and familiarity with computational material science, and this is a product that a lot of people can use. We talk about the democratization of ICME. 


Listen now