Chris Marianetti | Predicting Behavior of Materials

Chris Marianetti
Assistant Professor of
Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics
This profile is included in the publication Excellentia, which features current research of Columbia Engineering faculty members.
                                    Photo by Eileen Barroso

Predicting the behavior of materials challenges scientists and engineers intent on developing new sources of alternative energy and applications for new materials, such as graphene, the one-atom layer of carbon that researchers say holds promise in a wide variety of applications. The materials used in battery storage are a key part of strategies to exploit renewable resources.

Understanding the behavior of material used in nuclear power and nuclear weaponry is also crucial to their safe storage. Plutonium, an active ingredient in nuclear weapons, has proved particularly challenging. With the international test ban treaty prohibiting experiments, scientists now predict how the materials react with many-body quantum theory, using supercomputers to determine how the electrons within these materials will behave.

“The plutonium in the weapons ages, and we have to be able to predict the properties of plutonium under a variety of conditions,” Chris Marianetti said. “You need the material to be stable and work like you think it will work, and it turns out that it’s difficult to predict.”

Marianetti came to Columbia in 2008. He earned his Ph.D. in computational materials science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focusing on applying first-principles methods, such as Density Functional Theory (DFT) and Dynamical Mean-Field Theory (DMFT), to energy storage materials.

Marianetti continued on to a postdoctoral position in condensed matter physics at Rutgers University. There, he continued developing/applying DFT and DMFT to strongly correlated electron systems. Following Rutgers, Marianetti moved on to a second post doctoral position at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) where he utilized LLNL’s world-class supercomputers to apply DFT and DMFT to plutonium. With an element like plutonium, it can take several weeks to carry out his computations on one of the world’s largest supercomputers. He has made numerous pioneering predictions, including the most accurate computation of the temperature dependence of plutonium’s magnetic properties.

His research has also played a role in understanding the behavior of graphene, the single-atomic layer of carbon whose honeycomb lattice structure is among the strongest ever measured. Graphene, seen as a next-generation material, has many potential uses, from nanoribbons used in integrated circuit connections to transistors that could one day replace silicon, to construction of a tether winding its way through the atmosphere to outer space.

Marianetti’s computations have determined how and why graphene fractures under tension, an important step in determining the limits of the material’s future use.

B.S., Ohio State University, 1997; M.S., Ohio State University, 1998; Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2004

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