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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 Solids—which involved people like Tony Ingraffea from Civil Engineering at Cornell—that 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 solids—in 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 springiness.

"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 project."

To learn more about Dr. Bailey's current research, visit the Web site of CAMP at:


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