Dr. Nicholas Bailey
Dr. Nicholas Bailey is interested in bridging the gap
between physics and engineering. Toward that end, he creates software powerful
enough to solve problems posed by modern materials science.
Nicholas Bailey hails from Dublin, Ireland, where he got his
undergraduate degree in physics from University College Dublin (UCD). For graduate
work, he was drawn to the United States by the large range of opportunities
available and enrolled at Cornell.
Dr. Bailey explains that, as an undergraduate, he learned
very little about current physics research. "It was only in my first year of
Cornell that I learned even the phrase 'condensed matter physics,' which
includes materials physics, and it was only when I started working for Jim [Dr.
James Sethna] and the KDI project Multiscale Modeling of Defects in
Solidswhich involved people like Tony Ingraffea from Civil
Engineering at Cornellthat I became aware of what research in engineering
is all about."
The KDI-funded project involved developing ideas about
software and writing software that would allow the team to model defects in
solidsin this case, metals. For the project, Dr. Bailey was involved in
writing a modern molecular dynamics code called the Digital Material, which was
used to develop and test new theories and models of defect dynamics over a wide
range of length scales, from the atomic to the microscopic.
During the KDI project, the Cornell team actively
collaborated with scientists at the Center for Atomic-scale Materials Physics
(CAMP) in Denmark. After Dr. Bailey got his Ph.D. from Cornell, he became a
postdoc scientist at CAMP, in the Department of Physics at the Technical
University of Denmark. Today, he studies the fundamental mechanisms of plastic
deformation in metallic glass using atomic simulation.
Unlike metal, which is a type of crystalline material,
metallic glass is non-crystalline form of metal that is a combination of
certain metals that are cooled very fast from the liquid state. "Glass" means
disordered on the atomic scale, like window glass, although metallic glass
isn't transparent. Dr. Bailey simulates the formation of metallic glass and
does simulations to characterize its mechanical properties, such as rigidity
and strength. These properties of metallic glass are of interest to physicists
and engineers who study defects in solids because they are very different from
the properties of metals. "Dislocations are a kind of defect in metals, and
they are what control the strength of metals," says Dr. Bailey. "But you can't
have them in glass." Today, scientists know a great deal about dislocations in
metals, but very little is known about what goes on inside metallic glass at
the atomic level when it is deformed. Researchers are eager to learn more
because metallic glass can be very strong.
This research is in a preliminary stage, but it will
ultimately be useful to industries that require high-strength materials, such
as the aerospace industry and the military. Certain kinds of metallic glass
already have applications, for example, in transformer cores in the power
industry. They've also found their way into the world of sports, where they're
used in a new kind of golf club head, which is controversial because of its
"My appreciation for engineering continues to grow," says
Dr. Bailey. He explains that, although a major direction in physics today is
biology, a big challenge also exists in materials science and engineering. That
challenge can be addressed by current physics methods combined with engineering
knowledge. According to Dr. Bailey, the distinction between physics and
engineering is shrinking fast. "I find the whole field exciting," he says, "but
I wouldn't have known about it without having been involved in the KDI
To learn more about Dr. Bailey's current research, visit the Web
site of CAMP at: http://www3.fysik.dtu.dk/CAMP/
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