College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Wilkinson Professor of Interdisciplinary Engineering chosen for Alexander von Humboldt Research Award

Krishan Rajan

Rajan’s research in big data earns international recognition

Krishan Rajan
Krishna Rajan

Krishna Rajan has pioneered the new and emerging field of materials informatics, which involves the application of statistical learning and informatics techniques to a broad range of materials science problems. Rajan, who holds joint appointments in the materials science department and the bioinformatics and computational biology program, has established the largest single academic program fully dedicated to materials informatics since coming to Iowa State more than 10 years ago.

His work in the field was recently recognized with the Humboldt Research Award. The award recognizes the significant impact researchers have had on their discipline while also realizing these individuals will continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future.

The international recognition comes after two major national science policy initiatives – “Materials Genome Initiative” and “Big Data Initiative” – have been established. The first aims to catalyze activity in the field of accelerated materials discovery using high throughput synthesis and/or computational methods. Through his work in materials informatics, Rajan has gained recognition as the leader in developing the tools that will enable the Materials Genome Initiative to become a reality. Similarly, the concept of “Big Data,” a term that emerged from other fields such as health and social sciences, is in fact driven by the computational tools of informatics. The link between these concepts is driven by Rajan’s research, which is viewed as an advancement in the field.

When he first began conceiving the ideas for his research in this area many years ago, the topic of materials informatics did not even exist.  Thus, Rajan says it, “feels good to know that you have contributed to building a new field, and that everyone else is now trying to emulate our work as we are setting the pace as the subject grows.”

Rajan was nominated for the Humboldt Research Award by Matthias Schiffler, director of the Solid State Theory group at the Fritz- Haber Institute in Berlin. Rajan says receiving the honor was a very humbling but gratifying feeling.

In the future, Rajan will be collaborating his research with colleagues in Berlin. He will also be building long-term collaborations and connections between groups and institutions in Germany and the U.S. He looks forward to advancing new ideas in materials science education through data science.