Randolph Kirchain

Principal Research Scientist
Materials Systems Laboratory

Randolph Kirchain is a principal research scienctist at the MIT Materials Systems Labortory (MSL). His research explores the impact of materials-technology decisions on the economic and environmental performance of the products into which those materials are transformed and the systems in which they are produced, used, and eventually discarded.

The choice of material potentially has sweeping implications for the realization of a product. Materials dictate available production processes, and therefore the physical constraints within which a designer must work. Similarly, the synergism of design, materials, and process affect the environmental impacts associated with a product's manufacture, its use, and its ultimate disposal. Understanding the implications of a materials-technology decision requires characterizing the effects that occur throughout every stage of the material/product life-cycle.

To address this, Dr. Kirchain's research deals with the development of methods to model two critical aspects of technological performance-life-cycle economics and materials system sustainability, particularly resource efficiency and recyclability. To date, such methods have been developed for and applied to issues associated with every major life-cycle stage.

Research Interests: 

Dr. Kirchain has focused on automotive manufacturing systems, including working on projects for all three major automobile manufacturers. These projects include extensive study of the functioning of the system for reclaiming materials from end-of-life vehicles. The specific focus of this work has been to understand the economic implications of changing vehicle composition and emerging policy strictures on the successful operation of this system.

In the News: 

Kirchain and colleagues received a grant from Department of Energy for liquid metal battery project, “Energy Department Aid for Science on the Edge”, New York Times blog DealBook – October 26, 2009.

The Boston Globe, October 27, 2009.

Paper presented at the 2004 Engineering Systems Symposium: Co-author of "Sustainability as an Organizing Design Principle for Large-Scale Engineering Systems".