MSEE’s Simulants Workshop shines a spotlight on laboratory substitutes for dangerous compounds

Laboratory simulants allow scientists to study the impossible—and the impossibly dangerous.

In HEMI’s Materials Science in Extreme Environments University Research Alliance (MSEE URA), scientists from universities and labs across the country work together to understand the basic science needed to mitigate the effects of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

Chemical and biological agents can be difficult and dangerous (if not impossible) to study in laboratory conditions, which is why researchers often use simulants to take the place of these warfare agents. Simulants can allow scientists to study the way these compounds move, react, and degrade.

Researchers in MSEE share data, facilities, and research methods, furthering their collective knowledge base through constant collaboration. Sharing information about which laboratory simulants to use and how to use them safely, effectively, and efficiently was the goal of MSEE’s Simulants Workshop.

Held at the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus the week of October 3, the three-day workshop was organized by Hergen Eilers, a professor of physics at Washington State University and coordinator of MSEE’s Research Area 3 – Focus Area 2: High-Temperature Properties and Chemistry of Agents and Simulants.

The workshop’s 35 in-person guests and 20 virtual attendees were treated to introductory remarks from Eilers, MSEE Director Tim Weihs, and MSEE Technical Point of Contact Jeff Davis. Lee Nelson, Technical Director of DTRA’s Counterforce Systems Division, gave a presentation on the agency’s interests in chemical warfare agents (CWAs) and their simulants.

The workshop featured 29 presentations and a slew of informative activities. Each event was focused on simulants of CWAs, their relation to the agents of interest, various testing methods and results, and computational modeling of simulant and agent data. Open discussions were held to explore experimental and modeling techniques, as well as the pros and cons of specific CWA simulants. A poster and networking session fostered discussion and community among attendees.

This workshop was the latest of many organized by MSEE researchers and staff. In the last 18-months alone, MSEE has hosted six workshops and five short courses. Past topics include uncertainty quantification, impact research experiments, and optical spectroscopy.

A lecture hall with people in business attire watching a presentation People in business attire gather in an atrium, looking at research posters, eating, and mingling

Researchers and staff present MSEE and CAIMEE research on Capitol Hill

Over 500 visitors filled the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building on June 7 for Hopkins on the Hill, a biennial event showcasing some of the federally funded research taking place at Johns Hopkins University. Congressional staffers and government officials mingled with Johns Hopkins researchers, staff, and alumni.

Of the programs highlighted at the event, two are housed within the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute. Both HEMI-affiliated programs strive to make the world a safer place by expanding the horizons of materials science in extreme environments. Knowledge gained from both programs has the potential to bolster national defense, making them particularly valuable to government partners and collaborators.

The MEDE+ program, within HEMI’s Center on Artificial Intelligence for Materials in Extreme Environments (CAIMEE), aims to explore the possibilities of AI in materials design. By utilizing AI, machine learning, and automation, researchers hope to create a facility that can accelerate the modelling, production, and testing of materials. The program has the potential to revolutionize high-throughput materials design, facilitating the creation of materials with tailored properties for use in extreme environments, with a focus on materials of interest to its partners at DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory.

Rayna Mehta, a graduate student studying materials science in the Whiting School of Engineering, explained some of the cutting-edge work being done in the MEDE+ program while Bess Bieluczyk, CAIMEE’s program manager, presented information about the program’s new state-of-the-art materials fabrication facility. This facility, the Artificial Intelligence for Materials Design (AIMD) Laboratory, is currently being built in the historic Stieff Silver Building and is set to open this fall.

Representatives from the Materials Science in Extreme Environments University Research Alliance (MSEE URA) were also in attendance. MSEE’s research covers a wide range of topics, from neutralizing chemical weapons to studying the effects of nuclear blasts. Researchers studying reactive materials—in this case, substances designed to defeat chemical and biological weapons—showed samples of their work. Among these researchers was Kyle Fisher, an ROTC cadet and the only undergraduate student presenting research at the event.

For Andrew Proulx, the program manager of MSEE, Hopkins on the Hill was a chance to show off not only the group’s groundbreaking research, but also MSEE’s workforce development potential. “Hopkins on the Hill was an exciting opportunity to showcase the great research being performed in MSEE to a number of stakeholders,” said Proulx. “From congressional aides and DOD partners to Hopkins alumni, everyone was engaged and excited to meet with our students and learn about our critical research and workforce development activities. I am proud to be a member of MSEE and appreciative of the opportunity to talk with so many folks about the program’s impact.”

A handful of people in formal attire stand together for a group photo

MSEE and CAIMEE researchers and staff at Hopkins on the Hill 2023 (image: Will Kirk)

Four people in business attire discuss research in a large ballroom

Bess Bieluczyk (left) and Rayna Mehta (second from left) discuss CAIMEE’s MEDE+ program with guests. (image: Will Kirk)

A metal plate showing the effects of an impact, with a large crater in the middle

MSEE and CAIMEE researchers used material samples and images to give attendees a glimpse into the compelling work they do every day. (image: Will Kirk)

CAIMEE researchers convene for MEDE+AIMD Review/AMDEE Kickoff

The global community is only beginning to delve into the potential applications for AI, while researchers at the Center on Artificial Intelligence for Materials in Extreme Environments (CAIMEE) are already forging pathways to integrate AI into materials design, testing, and fabrication. 

CAIMEE is leading the effort in these cutting-edge AI applications with three programs: Materials in Extreme Dynamic Environments Plus (MEDE+), AI for Materials Design (AIMD), and AI-Driven Integrated and Automated Materials Design for Extreme Environments (AMDEE). These programs represent a collaborative, concerted effort to accelerate and optimize high-throughput materials design.  

On Thursday, May 18, CAIMEE’s leadership, faculty, and staff convened for a series of presentations to review MEDE+ and AIMD’s progress and give an overview of their plans for AMDEE. During this event, principal investigators presented some of their research findings, challenges, and goals to visitors and collaborators from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory (DEVCOM ARL). 

Within the MEDE+ and AIMD cooperative agreements, the research faculty and staff at CAIMEE aspire to establish a state-of-the-art laboratory that integrates AI, machine learning, and automation technologies. The AIMD Laboratory is currently being built in the Stieff Silver Building and will feature an automated closed-loop system designed to fabricate, characterize, test, and store material specimens with minimal human interaction. AMDEE will harness the AIMD Laboratory’s capabilities to develop and study alloys that are relevant to DEVCOM ARL’s interests. 

The event highlighted the collaborative nature and wide reach of CAIMEE’s programs. Each program is divided into discrete tasks, with each aspect of the research led by experts from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Delaware. 

Lori Graham-Brady, a professor in the Department of Civil and Systems Engineering, is the director of CAIMEE and associate director of the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute (HEMI). Graham-Brady leads the MEDE+, AIMD, and AMDEE research efforts, overseeing collaboration between Johns Hopkins research faculty, postdocs, graduate students, staff, and ARL and University of Delaware partners.  

Principal investigators from Johns Hopkins include Jaafar El-Awady, K.T. Ramesh, Tim Weihs, Todd Hufnagel, Paulette Clancy, David Elbert, Tamer Zaki, Mark Foster, and Axel Krieger. Each team member brings their unique expertise to contribute in areas such as physics-based computational modeling, robotic automation, data management, AI-driven decision making, Bayesian optimization, high-throughput characterization and testing, and fabrication of novel alloy powders. 

HEMI celebrates 11 years

The Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute (HEMI) celebrated its 11th birthday at its weekly tea event on Tuesday, April 25. Faculty, staff, post-doctoral fellows, and students gathered outside HEMI’s offices in Malone Hall to commemorate the milestone with cupcakes and festive décor in addition to the usual offerings of tea and enriching conversation.

Longtime members of HEMI–some of whom have been with the institute since its inception–were in attendance, including K.T. Ramesh, the Alonzo G. Decker, Jr. Professor of Science and Engineering and HEMI director, and Lori Graham-Brady, a professor in the Department of Civil and Systems Engineering and HEMI associate director. Ramesh gave brief remarks, thanking everyone for coming and being a part of HEMI.

Established on April 16, 2012, HEMI has made a significant impact on the world through its research and has a global reputation as a formidable driver of cutting-edge research into materials in extreme environments. HEMI’s research has expanded what is known about how materials act under extreme conditions. The institute has been awarded two major centers by the Department of Defense and has managed more than 40 subawards to partner universities and research organizations in 20 states and four foreign countries.

HEMI is actively involved in the Baltimore community through internships with Morgan State University, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and Maryland high schools. As one of Whiting School of Engineering’s (WSE) leading annual recipients of sponsored research, HEMI researchers work in areas that have a powerful impact, from finding ways to better protect our armed forces and safeguarding the human body during collisions to working to mitigate and control risks arising from weapons of mass destruction.

The sense of collaboration and congeniality at HEMI’s event highlighted the institute’s dedication to teamwork which, alongside their focus on research, plays a massive role in their success.

“What sets HEMI apart is our amazing staff and culture. We started with a team of four. Today there are 15 staff members, and we have plans to grow. We’re a bigger team than we were ten years ago, but that familial, team-based approach and culture is still there. It drives us to not only do our best, but to do what’s best for the staff as a whole,” said Scott McGhee, HEMI senior administrative manager.


HEMI hosts 2023 MACH Conference

After a three year hiatus, the Mach Conference welcomed back its in-person format in April, 2023. This year’s conference brought together representatives from academia, government, and industry to share their work in the field of materials, with an emphasis on advancing the fundamental science and engineering of materials and structures in extreme environments. The conference was chaired by Ryan Hurley, HEMI Fellow and assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

The conference was highlighted by five distinguished plenary speakers: Amine Benzerga, professor at Texas A&M University; Elizabeth Opila, professor at the University of Virginia; Laura Pyark-Nolte, distinguished professor at Purdue University; Aaron Stebner, professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology; and David Van Wie, Sector Head, Air and Missile Defense at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Over 100 session and 15 poster presentations were given, with a particular emphasis on facilitating collaboration and networking during this event, a trademark of the Mach Conference.

All posters were entered into a competition with judging by the conference attendees. The winners in each category are:

Judge’s Award: Kimia Ghaffari, University of Florida. Poster title, “Development of Deep-Network Learned Interatomic Potential for Shock Simulations of B4C.”

People’s Choice Award: Adyota Gupta, Johns Hopkins University. Poster title, “An Analytical, Multiscale Model for Predicting Granular Elasticity Incorporating Force Chain Mechanics.”

The Mach Conference is held in April each year. For more information, visit the MACH conference website.

HEMI hosts workshop with Sandia National Laboratories focusing on materials under extreme conditions

 HEMI co-sponsored a workshop with Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) on Thursday, September 1 . The workshop, held on the Homewood campus, focused on energetic materials, non-destructive testing, planetary science, AI for materials design, hypervelocity impact, fire science diagnostics, and the use of X-ray imaging techniques to characterize materials. Sandia representatives also shared an overview of their large-scale facilities. 

Sessions were chaired by HEMI Fellows June Wicks, assistant professor in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Jaafar El-Awady, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Whiting School of Engineering. 

Representatives from Sandia included Sarah Stair, Scott Alexander, and Caroline Winters. The visitors from Sandia also met individually with Johns Hopkins graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to outline research internship opportunities at SNL.


SNL representatives (left to right): Caroline Winters, Scott Alexander, and Sarah Stair.  

HEMI leaders join other JHU experts to brief Congress and the public on artificial intelligence on July 28

From self-parking cars to digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa, artificial intelligence is an integral part of many people’s daily lives. But experts say we have only just begun to explore AI’s power to transform and improve lives in areas including health care, transportation, public health, education, climate change, and more.

From 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. EDT on Thursday, July 28, in the next installment of Johns Hopkins Congressional Briefing Series, AI experts from Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering, School of Medicine, Applied Physics Laboratory, and Berman Institute of Bioethics will offer their insights into the opportunities and challenges presented by AI. These every-other-month briefings offer policymakers, their staff, and the public the chance to hear top experts’ views on important and relevant topics, such as gun violence, maternal health, and COVID-19. Registration is required, and attendees can submit questions in advance or during the briefing, which will be livestreamed here.

The session, titled “Artificial Intelligence: Opportunities and Challenges,” will be moderated by KT Ramesh, Alonzo G. Decker Jr. Professor of Science and Engineering, director of the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute, and senior advisor for AI to Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels.

“At Johns Hopkins, we are bringing together two powerful forces, human intelligence and artificial intelligence, with the goal of understanding and improving the human condition,” Ramesh said. “The power of AI is at work in everything from autonomous technologies such as self-driving cars and robotic spacecraft to technologies that help us understand disease mechanisms and deliver better healthcare to patients. In this briefing, our experts will discuss the promise of AI, its impact, the ethical issues surrounding its use, and much more.”

Johns Hopkins experts participating are:

MEDE CRA Completes 10th Annual Fall Meeting

The Materials in Extreme Dynamic Environments Collaborative Research Alliance (MEDE CRA) conducted its tenth and final Fall Meeting on November 17th, 2021. As the lead research organization of the CRA, Johns Hopkins University (JHU) hosts the event. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this event was held using a virtual format.

The Fall Meeting brings the entire MEDE CRA together for a program overview and technical discussions in preparation for the January 2022 capstone event. This year’s Fall Meeting was attended by 117 individuals including special guests from the DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory (ARL), DEVCOM Soldier Center, United Kingdom’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Command,  and the National Ground Intelligence Center. Professor Lori Graham-Brady (JHU) and Dr. Sikhanda Satapathy (ARL) led the meeting, which highlighted the research accomplishments for new metallic, ceramic, and composite protection materials, as well as new computational design codes and tools for armor applications. Dr. Scott Schoenfeld, ARL’s Senior Research Scientist for Terminal Ballistics provided keynote remarks. The meeting also featured a virtual poster session with 41 presenters from across the MEDE CRA.

The MEDE CRA is an integral part of the ARL’s Enterprise for Multiscale Research of Materials. The objective of the MEDE CRA is to develop the capability to design, optimize, and fabricate material systems exhibiting revolutionary performance in extreme dynamic environments. The approach is to realize a mechanism-based, “materials-by-design” capability that focuses on advancing the fundamental understanding of materials in relevant high-strain-rate and high-stress regimes. Model materials in the areas of metals, ceramics, and composites are being investigated to improve protection for soldiers and vehicles.

CMEDE Fall Meeting Highlights Research by HEMI Fellows

The Materials in Extreme Dynamic Environments Collaborative Research Alliance (MEDE CRA) conducted its Fall Meeting on October 15th, 2020. As the lead research organization of the CRA, Johns Hopkins University hosts and staffs the event. Due to COVID-19, the annual, closed event was completely virtual this year.

The MEDE Fall Meeting brings the entire MEDE CRA together for program overviews, collaborative activities, and discussion. In 2020, the event was attended by 130 individuals including special guests from the United Kingdom’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the U.S. Army CCDC Army Research Laboratory, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Army CCDC Soldier Center, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Command,  the Office of Naval Research, and the National Ground Intelligence Center. Professor K.T. Ramesh (JHU) and Dr. Sikhanda Satapathy (CCDC ARL) led the meeting, which highlighted the research accomplishments for new metallic, ceramic, and composite protection materials, as well as new computational design codes and tools for armor applications. The meeting also featured a virtual poster session with 55 presenters including ARL researchers, university faculty, graduate students, and postdocs from within the MEDE CRA.

The MEDE Fall Meeting highlights research from partners around the world.