How materials research will drive the 'Innovation Age'

14:57, June 21, 2011      

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Using and developing new materials has been vital to the development of humankind. Indeed, the naming of the "ages" of history after materials - the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age - demonstrate the importance that humans place in materials.

The discovery and development of new materials will be key drivers of the "Innovation Age" and for manufacturing in the future, according to scientists in the United Kingdom who are committed to the search in several important areas.

A new high-tech Materials Technology Integration Centre - costing one million pounds, recently opened at the University of Leicester, central England - is set to impact on areas as diverse as forensics, climate change and transport.

Meanwhile, a collaborative research team from the University of Bristol and Imperial College London have been awarded a grant to develop a new generation of high performance polymer composites.

Existing fibre-reinforced polymer composites are known for their high strength and stiffness and which are used in applications from sporting goods to aircraft, but if the material fails it can be catastrophic and can happen with little warning.

The research team has been awarded a grant to develop a new generation of high performance, fibre-reinforced polymer composites to overcome this key limitation.

Researchers at Leicester will be working with industry to drive innovation in materials technology. The aim of the Materials Technology Integration Centre (MaTIC) is to provide expertise and know-how of advanced technology that can be used to solve complex engineering and scientific problems.

MaTIC is bristling with technologies that help industry to work with academics to tackle the materials challenges of the future, according to the head of the new centre, Professor Sarah Hainsworth.

She said: "The purpose for the centre is underpinned by industry's critical need to develop new materials and processes. The materials that are being developed are the next generation of materials that will help to make more efficient aero and automotive engines.

"The new materials contribute to decreasing CO2 emissions and improving the environmental impact of transport - this will help society to meet targets for minimising impact on climate change".

"The new centre will also engage in forensic work which has an impact on the way in which violent crime is understood and interpreted," she added.

Professor Hainsworth explained that materials played an important role in, for example, driving innovations in approaches to reducing environmental emissions and improving energy efficiency.

She continued: "In order to better understand new materials, new analytical and experimental techniques are required to drive new knowledge. However, it is the integration of our analytical and experimental techniques that is key and that allows us to have better insight into materials processing or materials implementation - be that by casting or chemical reactions."

"The integration is important not only for new materials but also in areas such as geology where the new techniques allow microfossils to be examined in new ways that give exciting information about their 3D structure."

"We are delighted to have created this new Materials Technology Integration Centre and particularly look forward to working with industry in solving materials challenges for the future," added Professor Hainsworth.

Continuing that theme, Professor John Fothergill, the head of the Department of Engineering, said: "The development of new materials has been vital to the development of mankind. Across the University of Leicester’s College of Science & Engineering, research and development in the area of materials forms an important theme.

"New materials and fabrication processes are developed through advanced experimental, microscopy and characterisation techniques, and through theoretical and computer modelling processes".

"The new Materials Technology Integration Centre will add to the existing very considerable equipment base in the college and in the Department of Engineering with some cutting-edge analytical apparatus and expertise," he added.

"As well as furthering our understanding of materials within current university research, the centre will enable us to develop further our collaborations with engineering industry for the benefit of the UK," said Professor Fothergill.

The aim of the six million pounds six-year project in Bristol and London is to create a new generation of high performance, ductile fibre-reinforced polymer composites capable of sustaining large deformations without breaking.

The team is led by Professor Michael Wisnom at the University of Bristol and Professor Alexander Bismarck at Imperial College London, and supported by partners including BAE Systems, dstl, Halliburton, Hexcel, Mouchel, Rolls-Royce and Vestas.

Advanced composites, based on carbon, glass and aramid fibres, are a vital low-weight material technology that also offers operational savings and extended service lifetimes.

These materials are being implemented in rapidly increasing volumes, with the UK supply of advanced composite systems currently worth about 1.6 billion pounds a year and growing rapidly.

Source: British Embassy in China
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