Materials Systems Laboratory

The Materials Systems Laboratory is a research group at MIT that studies the strategic implications of materials and materials processing choices. MSL resides within the MIT School of Engineering, maintaining affiliations with a number of labs, centers and programs at the Institute (including the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Institute for Data, Systems, and Society; Materials Processing Center; Sociotechnical Systems Research Center; the MIT Portugal Program; the Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT; and the MIT Tata Center). We work jointly with numerous corporate, government, academic and industrial consortia as research partners.

Research Objectives

Our research seeks to understand the competitive position of materials in specific applications, such as assessment of different candidate materials, assessment of process technologies, and evaluation of both the economic and non-economic consequences of each alternative. We also evaluate the promise and limits of materials, processes and designs; identify specific areas of improvement for each alternative that will improve its competitiveness; and determine the "best case" scenario for each option.

Analytical Approach

MSL provides analytical rigor by developing quantitative tools whenever possible to address direct manufacturing costs of each alternative and total lifecycle costs, and sustainability factors. Our focus is on developing tools useful at an early stage of product design. The function of these tools is to obtain early indications of competitiveness and areas in need of additional research and development. Using these tools, we can narrow the list of potential materials prior to making large investments in product design and manufacture. Our methodologies include technical cost modeling, lifecycle cost and emissions tracking, decision analysis techniques, systems dynamics modeling, and system cost modeling.

Principal Industries

A major portion of our work is carried out in cooperation with the automotive industry, examining structural materials, assembly issues, and electronics and powertrain issues, but we are also notable for our work on projects of interest to the electronics and photonics industries, including electronics recycling, opto-electronic devices. We are also engaged in work with bio-polymers and supply chain studies.