The microstructure of a material intimately affects the performance of a device made from this material. The microstructure, in turn, is affected by the processing pathway used to fabricate the device. This forms the process–structure–property triangle that is central to material science. There has been increasing interest to comprehensively understand and subsequently exploit process–structure–property (PSP) relationships to design processing pathways that result in tailored microstructures exhibiting optimal properties.

However, unraveling process–structure–property relationships usually requires systematic and tedious combinatorial search of process and system variables to identify the microstructures that are produced.

This is further complicated by the necessity to interrogate the properties of the huge set of corresponding microstructures. Motivated by this challenge, we focus on developing a generic methodology to establish and explore PSP pathways. We leverage recent advances in high performance computing (HPC) and high throughput computing (HTC) with the premise that a domain expert should be able to focus on domain specific PSP problems while the highly specialized HPC/HTC knowledge needed to approach such problems should be hidden from the domain expert.

Our hypothesis is that PSP exploration can be naturally formulated in terms of a standard paradigm in cloud computing, namely the MapReduce programming model. We show how reformulating PSP exploration into a MapReduce workflow enables us to take advantage of advances in cloud computing while requiring minimal specialized knowledge of HPC.

We illustrate this generic approach by exploring PSP relationships relevant to organic photovoltaics. We focus on identifying microstructural traits that correlate with specific properties of the photovoltaic process: exciton generation, exciton dissociation and charge generation.

We integrate a graph-based microstructure characterization tool, and a microstructure-aware device simulator into the MapReduce workflow to automatically generate, explore and identify highly correlated microstructural traits. Identification of these microstructural traits has significant implications for designing the next generation of organic photovoltaics.

This article originally appeared in Materials Discovery 1, 2015, 21-28