When quantum computing meets alloy design

NSF CAREER award to support Fulton Schools Assistant Professor Houlong Zhuang’s work to further streamline alloy design process

March 2, 2023

Although research alloy design and artificial intelligence has been ongoing for decades, Houlong Zhuang is now combining the two fields to forge a new path forward for materials scientists.

Zhuang’s vision is quickly gaining traction. In fact, the first research article he published about incorporating the use of artificial intelligence to design alloys has already been cited nearly 250 times since 2019. Houlong Zhuang posing in front of ASU's Engineering Research Center. ASU Assistant Professor Houlong Zhuang has been recognized with a National Science Foundation CAREER award to continue his research at the intersection of alloy design and quantum computing. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

The National Science Foundation, or NSF, grants the Faculty Early Career Development Program, or CAREER, award to early-career faculty members who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

Zhuang has been awarded a $537,000 CAREER award from the NSF to pursue this research in alloy design and quantum computing in his project “Developing Quantum Algorithms for High-Entropy Alloy Discovery.”

Alloy design involves the development of materials made with various metals blended together to create an ideal structural composition. Quantum computing operates by using the subatomic particles in physical matter to store information, then leverages this behavior using specialized hardware. The data drawn from quantum computing can be used to develop methods to mathematically describe the interactions between atoms.

When developing a new alloy, there are a number of elements on the periodic table to consider. Researchers must evaluate which elements will bond most effectively together, and what molar ratios atomically bond to produce optimal results. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Zhuang’s CAREER award project will build on his work combining alloy design and quantum computing to create quantum algorithms that aid researchers in developing new materials.

These algorithms will be implemented using quantum hardware that produce the simulations of the bonds between select elements to predict the best possible combinations of elements to achieve a given material property. Researchers can then conduct experiments to validate if these predictions are correct.

As an assistant professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and EnergyZhuang has collaborated with other researchers in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the ASU Quantum Collaborative to use quantum computing to answer questions about atomic interactions in a given chemical composition.

“This project aims to search for a ‘materials genome’ for alloy design using state-of-the-art quantum computers,” Zhuang says. “We are looking forward to identifying promising materials candidates that are suitable for sustainable energy applications like the future hydrogen economy.”

In late 2022, Zhuang was also honored with a Materials Today Rising Star Award and two research fellowship awards from Scialog and the International Association of Advanced Materials. 

Zhuang joined Scialog, sponsored by the Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement, an institution dedicated to breaking down barriers and building community between academic disciplines. With collaborators Yayuan Liu of Johns Hopkins University and Chibueze Amanchukwu from University of Chicago, he was awarded a $55,000 grant to conduct the research project titled “Surface charge-induced CO2 solvent regeneration via free volume manipulation.” Zhuang will run computational simulations investigating the mechanisms of ionic liquid molecules on charged surfaces for reversible capture and release of carbon dioxide.

Zhuang’s progress in alloy design earned him a second fellowship from the International Association of Advanced Materials, or IAAM. The notable distinction that IAAM confers upon researchers recognizes their important contribution to the advancement of materials science.

Early in his career, Zhuang’s contributions also included developing curriculum for courses he taught in machine learning and quantum computing to help prepare the next generation of engineers to further expand the boundaries of artificial intelligence and quantum computing. His CAREER award will enable him to continue these pursuits by providing training through workforce development programs, graduate outreach programs and mentorships for high school students. Zhuang also plans to enhance collaborations in quantum computing and AI between African and U.S. physicists through exchange opportunities.

Hayley Hilborn

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

ASU, Chandler High host Career Exploration Day to encourage early career preparation among high schoolers

March 2, 2023

The students of today will become the working professionals and business leaders of tomorrow. With this in mind, Arizona State University and Chandler High School partnered to present an interactive Career Exploration Day for nearly 800 Chandler High students.

The goal of the event was to introduce nearly 800 high school juniors to career and professional development opportunities that will help prepare them for success. The Chandler Center for the Arts was transformed into a career exploration hub on Feb. 17, where students could discover new opportunities and start getting ready for the future of work. ASU and Chandler High students mingle around tables in a gymnasium setting. Career Exploration Day featured career exploration workshops, an industry and employer networking showcase, and resource tables hosted by ASU staff and students eager to show Chandler High students the range of professional development and engagement opportunities available at ASU. Photo courtesy ASU Educational Outreach and Student Services Download Full Image

“We have been working with ASU in a variety of capacities, especially since the pandemic, to create more opportunities for students by expanding access to the abundance of resources they have been able to provide,” said Michael Franklin, principal of Chandler High School. "They chose us as one of four schools to pilot this unique opportunity with."

Taylor Robinson, a Chandler High School junior and aspiring engineer, said the event helped her and her peers gain a better understanding of college majors and careers that interest them.

“Having this day really prioritizes college,” Robinson said. “If we don’t know what to do, we have opportunities to figure that out and further our understanding of the career we want to go into."

The daylong event featured career exploration workshops, an industry and employer networking showcase, and resource tables hosted by current ASU students representing registered clubs and organizations eager to show Chandler students the range of student engagement and professional development opportunities available at ASU.

“Chandler High School is an innovative, inclusive school that supports the success of its students at all levels, and we are excited to expand our partnership in this unique way,” said Vanessa Ruiz, deputy vice president of educational outreach with ASU. “This dynamic school community is a natural choice to partner with from an ASU perspective, as we want to work with districts that support and invest in the growth and training of their students, best positioning them to be successful after high school graduation, no matter their background or circumstances."

Each student in attendance at the event took the ASU-powered me3 career interest inventory survey to discover careers that fit their interests. me3 was created from research using a Euclidean distance matching algorithm. Fundamentally, me3 determines a student’s RIASEC score, which reflects their levels of interest in information, things, people and ideas, as they make decisions while taking a visual quiz. Finally, using information from the U.S. Department of Labor, me3 compares a student’s results to those of over 500 different careers. The results presented are the careers with the scores that are most similar to the student’s individual results.

Additionally, the Chandler students were able to use their me3 results to begin exploring career paths and college majors that align with those interests, with guidance from ASU Career and Professional Development Services staff.

Damian “Joey” Woodruff, a third-generation Chandler High School student, said he’s considered many career possibilities over the years, from becoming a lawyer to a police officer. He said the Career Exploration Day was about “figuring out what you want to do in life, like what do you want to major in (and) what sounds interesting to you.” 

“I feel like this is an important day for me because I can go home and be like, ‘Mom, I know what I want to do, I know what I want to major in now.’ I know how I want to proceed with my life after high school,” Woodruff said.

“I’m very happy with how today went and how much it taught me over these couple of hours."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average worker will hold 12 different jobs in their lifetime, many of which didn't exist a few years ago. Safali Patel, associate vice president of Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU said this changing career landscape requires helping students develop agility, adaptability and a strong professional network to support their success after high school and through their college years.

"Employers are becoming increasingly aware that in order to meet workforce needs, they must begin building a talent pipeline with students while they are still in high school,” Patel said. "Events like the Career Exploration Day allow students to discover careers and industries that match their interests and passions in ways they might not have considered before."

Franklin also emphasized the urgency for employers and students to begin college and career exploration efforts early.

“In our growing and changing world, students have choices, and industries are recognizing they need to capture the interests of students well before they are ready to enter the workforce. Career exploration events like this one allow them to capture interest at the outset," Franklin said.

To learn more about college readiness programs and services, visit the Access ASU website.

Video courtesy ASU Educational Outreach and Student Services

Joan M. Sherwood

Executive Director, Strategic Marketing & Communication, Educational Outreach & Student Services