Focusing on five thematic key areas
The CDT-ACM programme trains early career researchers to become experts in the application of advanced analytical techniques for materials development. It offers training in the application of state-of-the-art characterisation techniques for materials challenges in five thematic key areas of societal importance
Theme 1: Energy Materials
In an effort to tackle and mitigate the effects of climate change there is a drive to develop renewable energy technologies that no longer rely on carbon based feedstocks. To accelerate our move toward a net zero carbon economy it is essential that new technologies that convert and store energy are developed. A range of potential solutions have been proposed with solid state batteries, organic-inorganic hybrid solar cells, fuel cells and supercapacitors among the technologies actively pursued. Each of these technologies require the development of materials that exhibit both performance and durability, and the assessment of these criteria through advanced materials characterisation is of critical importance. As an example the formation and function of the solid electrolyte interphase layer, and the development of Li dendrites underpins the durability and safety of Li ion batteries, whilst the stability of halide perovskites in humid atmospheres is essential in the field of photovoltaics. Materials characterisation allows us to develop mechanistic understanding of key processes that will allow the next generation of energy technologies to flourish.
Theme 2: Biomaterials and Regenerative Medicine
Materials used in medicine (biomaterials) are revolutionizing modern medicine from joint replacements, scaffolds to regenerate tissues, wearable technologies to inform patient treatment and nanoparticles targeting diseased cells. Understanding how the physical and chemical properties of the materials interact with biological environments (from the nanoscale water and protein interactions, to the microscale cellular interactions) is vital for a design-led approach to create “better” biomaterials – materials with reduced failure rates and with increased functionality. This is a multi-disciplinary area of research that will utilise advanced physicochemical imaging/characterisation techniques and biological/medical science to allow a deeper understanding of the material-biological interface. Example research areas could include; how nanoparticle properties determine targeting and uptake efficacy, imaging cellular interactions with therapeutic ions released from bioceramics, physicochemical characterisation of decellularised tissues and how nanotopographies/nanochemistries influence cellular behaviour.
Theme 3: Engineering Materials
In the previous century, advances in our understanding of matter – driven by revolutionary experimental methods – ushered in a new era of engineering materials from plastics and alloys to composites and high temperature ceramics, transforming multiple industries including aviation, microelectronics and construction. More recently, exciting new advances in characterisation are again transforming this field. For example, multi length-scale, multi-technique investigations of accelerated fatigue and corrosion are leading to a step-change in our understanding of, and thus how to mitigate, these processes. Newly-created engineering materials are finding exciting applications for example, in the extreme conditions found in nuclear reactors/waste storage, high pressure pipes fuel cells or alloys for space travel. Not all of the focus is on new materials, and our projects include those that examine archaeological artefacts, such as understanding how the Mary Rose was assembled 500 years ago and how it can be preserved for future generations to marvel at.
Theme 4: Electronic and Magnetic Materials
Electronic and magnetic devices form the foundation of new scientific fields such as quantum technologies, AI and neuromorphic computation. They are typically made from materials whose electrical or magnetic properties can be finely engineered on length-scales from microns to the atomic scale, using advanced fabrication techniques, often performed in the cleanrooms at our institutes. Materials characterisation is typically a fundamental element in the device design and optimisation process. Topics that are studied include electrical transport in 2D materials, single atom electronics, organic semiconductors, magnetic monopoles and magnetic spin ice, magnetic sensing, spintronics and molecular spintronics, and magnetic cooling using magnetocalorics.
Theme 5: Instrumentation & Technique Development
The advanced characterisation of materials relies on state-of-the-art instrumentation. Equally, the preparation of challenging samples, and the onward analysis of experimental data underpin the quality of the outcomes of the characterisation. Hence the improvement of existing methods and the development of new methods to characterise materials. Projects relate to the function and performance of the entire characterisation workflow, with areas including: (a) novel or automated sample preparation or screening to facilitate throughput, (b) advances in the resolution or sensitivity of characterisation hardware, and (c) data-collection, processing and visualisation to amplify experimental outcomes.
The CDT gave me the opportunity to meet people working in different fields and gain experience in a wide range of characterisation techniques that I could apply to my research.