Encyclopedia of Big Data Technologies

Living Edition
| Editors: Sherif Sakr, Albert Zomaya

Big Semantic Data Processing in the Materials Design Domain

  • Patrick LambrixEmail author
  • Rickard Armiento
  • Anna Delin
  • Huanyu Li
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-63962-8_293-1


Material Ontology National Institute Of Materials Science (NIMS) Knowledge Representation Perspective Materials Genome Initiative Open Quantum Materials Database 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


To speed up the progress in the field of materials design, a number of challenges related to big data need to be addressed. This entry discusses these challenges and shows the semantic technologies that alleviate the problems related to variety, variability, and veracity.


Materials design and materials informatics are central for technological progress, not the least in the green engineering domain. Many traditional materials contain toxic or critical raw materials, whose use should be avoided or eliminated. Also, there is an urgent need to develop new environmentally friendly energy technology. Presently, relevant examples of materials design challenges include energy storage, solar cells, thermoelectrics, and magnetic transport (Ceder and Persson 2013; Jain et al. 2013; Curtarolo et al. 2013).

The space of potentially useful materials yet to be discovered – the so-called chemical white space – is immense. The possible combinations of, say, up to six different elements constitute many billions. The space is further extended by possibilities of different phases, low-dimensional systems, nanostructuring, and so forth, which adds several orders of magnitude. This space was traditionally explored by experimental techniques, i.e., materials synthesis and subsequent experimental characterization. Parsing and searching the full space of possibilities this way are however hardly practical. Recent advances in condensed matter theory and materials modeling make it possible to generate reliable materials data by means of computer simulations based on quantum mechanics (Lejaeghere et al. 2016). High-throughput simulations combined with machine learning can speed up progress significantly and also help to break out of local optima in composition space to reveal unexpected solutions and new chemistries (Gaultois et al. 2016).

This development has led to a global effort – known as the Materials Genome Initiative (https://www.mgi.gov/) – to assemble and curate databases that combine experimentally known and computationally predicted materials properties. A central idea is that materials design challenges can be addressed by searching these databases for entries with desired combinations of properties. Nevertheless, these data sources also open up for materials informatics, i.e., the use of big data methodology and data mining techniques to discover new physics from the data itself. A workflow for such a discovery process can be based on a typical data mining process, where key factors are identified, reduced, and extracted from heterogeneous databases, similar materials are identified by modeling and relationship mining, and properties are predicted through evaluation and understanding of the results from the data mining techniques (Agrawal and Alok 2016). The use of the data in such a workflow requires addressing problems with data integration, provenance, and semantics, which remains an active field of research.

Even when a new material has been invented and synthesized in a lab, much work remains before it can be deployed. Production methods allowing manufacturing the material at large scale in a cost-effective manner need to be developed, and integration of the material into the production must be realized. Furthermore, life-cycle aspects of the material need to be assessed. Today, this post-invention process takes typically about two decades (Mulholland and Paradiso 2016; Jain et al. 2013). Shortening this time is in itself an important strategic goal, which could be realized with the help of an integrated informatics approach (Jain et al. 2013, Materials Genome Initiative https://www.mgi.gov/).

To summarize, it is clear that materials data, experimental as well as simulated, has the potential to speed up progress significantly in many steps in the chain starting with materials discovery, all the way to marketable product. However, the data needs to be suitably organized and easily accessible, which in practice is highly nontrivial to achieve. It will require a multidisciplinary effort and the various conventions and norms in use need to be integrated. Materials data is highly heterogeneous and much of it is currently hidden behind corporate walls (Mulholland and Paradiso 2016).

Big Data Challenges

To implement the data-driven materials design workflow, we need to deal with several of the big data properties (e.g., Rajan 2015).

Volume refers to the quantity of the generated and stored data. The size of the data determines the value and potential insight. Although the experimental materials science does not generate huge amounts of data, computer simulations with accuracy comparable to experiments can. Moreover, going from state-of-the-art static simulations at temperature T = 0 K toward realistic descriptions of materials properties at temperatures of operation in devices and tools will raise these amounts as well.

Variety refers to the type and nature of the data. The materials databases are heterogeneous in different ways. They store different kinds of data and in different formats. Some databases contain information about materials crystal structure, some about their thermochemistry, and others about mechanical properties. Moreover, different properties may have the same names, while the same information may be represented differently in different databases.

Velocity refers to the speed at which the data is generated and processed to meet the demands and challenges that lie in the path of growth and development. In computational materials science, new data is generated continuously, by a large number of groups all over the world. In principle, one can store summary results and data streams from a specific run as long as one needs (days, weeks, years) and analyze it afterward. However, to store all the data indefinitely may be a challenge. Some data needs to be removed as the storage capacity is limited.

Variability deals with the consistency of the data. Inconsistency of the data set can hamper processes to handle and manage it. This can occur for single databases as well as data that was integrated from different sources.

Veracity deals with the quality of the data. This can vary greatly, affecting accurate analysis. The data generated within materials science may contain errors, and it is often noisy. The quality of the data is different in different databases. It may be challenging to have provenance information from which one can derive the data quality. Not all the computed data is confirmed by lab experiments. Some data is generated by machine learning and data mining algorithms.

Sources of Data and Semantic Technologies

Although the majority of materials data that has been produced by measurement or through predictive computation have not yet become organized in general easy-to-use databases, several sizable databases and repositories do exist. However, as they are heterogeneous in nature, semantic technologies are important for the selection and integration of the data to be used in the materials design workflow. This is particularly important to deal with variety, variability, and veracity.

Within this field the use of semantic technologies is in its infancy with the development of ontologies and standards. Ontologies aim to define the basic terms and relations of a domain of interest, as well as the rules for combining these terms and relations. They standardize terminology in a domain and are a basis for semantically enriching data, integration of data from different databases (variety), and reasoning over the data (variability and veracity). According to Zhang et al. (2015a) in the materials domain ontologies have been used to organize materials knowledge in a formal language, as a global conceptualization for materials information integration (e.g., Cheng et al. 2014), for linked materials data publishing, for inference support for discovering new materials, and for semantic query support (e.g., Zhang et al. 2015b, 2017).

Further, standards for exporting data from databases and between tools are being developed. These standards provide a way to exchange data between databases and tools, even if the internal representations of the data in the databases and tools are different. They are a prerequisite for efficient materials data infrastructures that allow for the discovery of new materials (Austin 2016). In several cases the standards formalize the description of materials knowledge (and thereby create ontological knowledge).

In the remainder of this section, a brief overview of databases, ontologies, and standards in the field is given.


The Inorganic Crystal Structure Database (ICSD, https://icsd.fiz-karlsruhe.de/) is a frequently utilized database for completely identified inorganic crystal structures, with nearly 200 k entries (Belsky et al. 2002; Bergerhoff et al. 1983). The data contained in ICSD serve as an important starting point in many electronic structure calculations. Several other crystallographic information resources are also available (Glasser 2016). A popular open-access resource is the Crystallography Open Database (COD, http://www.crystallography.net/cod/) with nearly 400 k entries (Grazulis et al. 2012).

At the International Centre for Diffraction Data (ICDD, http://www.icdd.com/) a number of databases for phase identification are hosted. These databases have been in use by experimentalists for a long time.

Springer Materials (http://materials.springer.com/) contains among many other data sources, the well-known Landolt-Börnstein database, an extensive data collection from many areas of physical sciences and engineering. Similarly, The Japan National Institute of Material Science (NIMS) Materials Database MatNavi (http://mits.nims.go.jp/index_en.html) contains a wide collection of mostly experimental but also some computational electronic structure data.

Thermodynamical data, necessary for computing phase diagrams with the CALPHAD method, exist in many different databases (Campbell et al. 2014). Open-access databases with relevant data can be found through OpenCalphad (http://www.opencalphad.com/databases.html).

Databases of results from electron structure calculations have existed in some form for several decades. In 1978, Moruzzi, Janak, and Williams published a book with computed electronic properties such as, e.g., density of states, bulk modulus, and cohesive energy of all metals (Moruzzi et al. 2013). Only recently, however, the use of such databases has become widespread, and some of these databases have grown to a substantial size.

Among the more recent efforts to collect materials properties obtained from electronic structure calculations publicly available, a few prominent examples include the Electronic Structure Project (ESP) (http://materialsgenome.se) with ca 60 k electronic structure results, Aflow (Curtarolo et al. 2012, http://aflowlib.org/) with data on over 1.7 million compounds, the Materials Project with data on nearly 70 k inorganic compounds (Jain et al. 2013, https://materialsproject.org/), the Open Quantum Materials Database (OQMD, http://oqmd.org/), with over 470 k entries (Saal et al. 2013), and the NOMAD repository with 44 million electronic structure calculations (https://repository.nomad-coe.eu/). Also available is the Predicted Crystallography Open Database (PCOD, http://www.crystallography.net/pcod/) with over 1 million predicted crystal structures, which is a project closely related to COD.

As the amount of computed data grows, the need for informatics infrastructure also increases. Many of the databases discussed above have made their frameworks available, and well-known examples include the ones by Materials Project and OQMD. Other publicly available frameworks used in publications for materials design and informatics include the Automated Interactive Infrastructure and Database for Computational Science (AiiDA, http://www.aiida.net/) (Pizzi et al. 2016), the Atomic Simulation Environment (ASE, https://wiki.fysik.dtu.dk/ase/) (Larsen et al. 2017), and the high-throughput toolkit (httk, http://www.httk.org) (Faber et al. 2016).


We introduce the features of current materials ontologies from materials (Table 1) and a knowledge representation perspective (Table 2), respectively.
Table 1

Comparison of materials ontologies from a materials perspective

Materials ontology

Data source


Application scenario

Ashino’s Materials Ontology (Ashino 2010)

Thermal property databases

Thermal properties

Data exchange, search

Plinius ontology (van der Vet et al. 1994)

Publication abstracts


Knowledge extraction

MatOnto (Cheung et al. 2008)

DOLCE ontologya, EXPO ontologyb


New materials discovery

PREMΛP ontology (Bhat et al. 2013)

PREMΛP platform


Knowledge-guided design

FreeClassOWL (Radinger et al. 2013)

Eurobau datac, GoodRelations ontologyd

Construction and building materials

Semantic query support

MatOWL (Zhang et al. 2009)

MatML schema data


Semantic query support

MMOY (Zhang et al. 2016)

Yago data


Knowledge extraction

ELSSI-EMD ontology (CEN 2010)

Materials testing data from ISO standards

Materials testing, ambient temperature tensile testing

Data interoperability

SLACKS ontology (Premkumar et al. 2014)

Ashino’s Materials Ontology, MatOnto

Laminated composites

Knowledge-guided design

aDOLCE stands for Descriptive Ontology for Linguistic and Cognitive Engineering

bEXPO ontology is used to describe scientific experiments

cEurobau.com compiles construction materials data from ten European countries

cGoodRelations ontology (Hepp 2008) is used for e-commerce with concepts such as business entities and prices

Table 2

Comparison of materials ontologies from a knowledge representation perspective

Materials ontology

Ontology metrics



Ashino’s Materials Ontology (Ashino 2010)

606 concepts, 31 relationships, 488 instances


Plinius ontology (van der Vet et al. 1994)

17 concepts, 4 relationships, 119 instancesa

Ontolingua code


MatOnto (Cheung et al. 2008)

78 concepts, 10 relationships, 24 instances


PREMΛP ontology (Bhat et al. 2013)

62 concepts


FreeClassOWL (Radinger et al. 2013)

5714 concepts, 225 relationships 1469 instances



MatOWL (Zhang et al. 2009)

(not available)



MMOY (Zhang et al. 2016)

544 metal concepts, 1781 related concepts, 9 relationships, 318 metal instances 1420 related instances



ELSSI-EMD ontology (CEN 2010)

35 concepts, 37 relationships, 33 instances


SLACKS ontology (Premkumar et al. 2014)

34 concepts and 10 relationships at leastb



a103 instances out of 119 are elements in the periodic system

bThe numbers are based on the high-level class diagram and an illustration of instances’ integration in SLACKS shown in Premkumar et al. (2014)

Most ontologies focus on specific sub-domains of the materials field (Domain in Table 1) and have been developed with a specific use in mind (Application Scenario in Table 1). The Materials Ontology in Ashino (2010) was designed for data exchange among thermal property databases. Other ontologies were built to enable knowledge-guided materials design or new materials discovery, such as PREMΛP ontology (Bhat et al. 2013) for steel mill products, MatOnto ontology (Cheung et al. 2008) for oxygen ion-conducting materials in the fuel cell domain, and SLACKS ontology (Premkumar et al. 2014) that integrates relevant product life-cycle domains which consist of engineering analysis and design, materials selection, and manufacturing. The FreeClassOWL ontology (Radinger et al. 2013) is designed for the construction and building materials domain and supports semantic search for construction materials. MMOY ontology (Zhang et al. 2016) captures metal materials knowledge from Yago. The ontology design pattern in Vardeman et al. (2017) models and allows for reasoning about material transformations in the carbon dioxide and sodium acetate productions by combining baking soda and vinegar. Some ontologies are generated (Data source in Table 1) by extracting knowledge from other data resources such as the Plinius ontology (van der Vet et al. 1994) which is extracted from 300 publication abstracts in the domain of ceramic materials, and MatOWL (Zhang et al. 2009) which is extracted from MatML schema data to enable ontology-based data access. The ontologies may also use other ontologies as a basis, for instance, MatOnto that uses DOLCE (Gangemi et al. 2002) and EXPO (Soldatova and King 2006).

From the knowledge representation perspective (Table 2), the basic terms defined in materials ontologies involve materials, properties, performance, and processing in specific sub-domains. The number of concepts ranges from a few to several thousands. There are relatively few relationships and most ontologies have instances. Almost all ontologies use OWL as a representation language. In terms of organization of materials ontologies, Ashino’s Materials Ontology, MatOnto, and PREMΛP ontology are developed as several ontology components that are integrated in one ontology. In Table 2 this is denoted in the modularity column.


There are currently not so many standards yet in this domain. Early efforts including ISO standards and MatML achieved limited adoption according to Austin (2016). The standard ISO 10303-45 includes an information model for materials properties. It provides schemas for materials properties, chemical compositions, and measure values (Swindells 2009). ISO 10303-235 includes an information model for product design and verification. MatML (Kaufman and Begley 2003, https://www.matml.org/) is an XML-based markup language for materials property data which includes schemas for such things as materials properties, composition, heat, and production.

Some other standards that have received more attention are, e.g., ThermoML and CML. ThermoML (Frenkel et al. 2006, 2011) is an XML-based markup language for exchange of thermophysical and thermochemical property data. It covers over 120 properties regarding thermodynamic and transport property data for pure compounds, multicomponent mixtures, and chemical reactions. CML or Chemical Markup Language (Murray-Rust and Rzepa 2011; Murray-Rust et al. 2011) covers chemistry and especially molecules, reactions, solid state, computation, and spectroscopy. It is an extensible language that allows for the creation of sub-domains through the convention construct. Further, the dictionaries construct allows for connecting CML elements to dictionaries (or ontologies). This was inspired by the approach of the Crystallographic Information Framework or CIF (Bernstein et al. 2016, http://www.iucr.org/resources/cif).

The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) organized workshops on standards for materials engineering data (Austin 2016) of which the results are documented in CEN (2010). The work focuses specifically on ambient temperature tensile testing and developed schemas as well as an ontology (the ELSSI-EMD ontology from above).

Another recent approach is connected to the European Centre of Excellence NOMAD (Ghiringhelli et al. 2016). The NOMAD repository’s (https://repository.nomad-coe.eu/) metadata structure is formatted to be independent of the electronic-structure theory or molecular-simulation code that was used to generate the data and can thus be used as an exchange format.


The use of the materials data in a materials design workflow requires addressing several big data problems including variety, variability, and veracity. Semantic technologies are a key factor in tackling some of these problems. Currently, efforts have started in creating materials databases, ontologies, and standards. However, much work remains to be done. To make full use of these resources, there is a need for integration of different kinds of resources and reasoning capabilities should be used, as in the bioinformatics field in the 1990s (Lambrix et al. 2009). Databases could use ontologies to define their schemas and enable ontology-based querying. Integration of databases is enabled by the use of ontologies. However, when databases have used different ontologies, alignments between different ontologies are needed as well (Euzenat and Shvaiko 2007). Further, more effort should be put on connecting ontologies and standards (as started in the CML, CEN, and NOMAD approaches), which may also lead to connections between different standards. Reasoning can be used in different ways. When developing resources reasoning can help in debugging and completing the resources leading to higher-quality resources (Ivanova and Lambrix 2013). Reasoning can also be used during querying of databases as well as in the process of connecting different resources.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Lambrix
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rickard Armiento
    • 1
  • Anna Delin
    • 2
  • Huanyu Li
    • 1
  1. 1.Linköping UniversitySwedish e-Science Research CentreLinköpingSweden
  2. 2.Royal Institute of TechnologySwedish e-Science Research CentreStockholmSweden

Section editors and affiliations

  • Philippe Cudré-Mauroux
    • 1
  • Olaf Hartig
    • 2
  1. 1.eXascale InfolabUniversity of FribourgFribourgSwitzerland
  2. 2.Linköping UniversityLinköpingSweden