EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in the Advanced Characterisation of Materials

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Materials


The development of new materials and new devices / products based upon these materials is absolutely critical to the economic development of our society. One critical aspect of the development of new materials is the ability to analyse the materials and thus determine their properties. Indeed at the very heart of the philosophy of the materials discipline is the relationship between the microstructure and the properties of the materials. The core idea is that through processing one can control the microstructure and thus the properties. Materials characterisation tells us how succesful we have been at changing the microstructure and so is essential in process development. It also tells us what has gone wrong when materials or devices based upon them fail, i.e. it is used in troubleshooting.

There are a vast array of advanced materials characterisation techniques available these days and it is very challenging to know the best technique or combination of techniques to use to answer specific research problems. There is a need, therefore, to train research scientists who are expert in the use of certain techniques but also have a broader in-depth understanding of the plethora of techniques that potentially could be used. At the moment there is a skills gap in this area and we will plug that gap with this CDT in advanced characterisation of materials that brings together experts in advanced materials characterisation from two of the worlds top universities. The students will also spend some time (at least 12 weeks) in industry or at an overseas univeristy receiving context specific training.

The unique vision brought by this research training programme, therefore, is that our students will have a knowledge of materials characterisation that goes beyond narrow expertise in one or two experimental techniques, or a general overview of many, and instead cuts to the heart of what it means to be a leading experimentalist; with an inherent understanding of the nature of a scientific problem, the fundamental principles and intellectual tools required to address the problem, the technical knowledge and craft to apply the most appropriate experimental technique to obtain the necessary information and the critical and analytical skill to extract the solution from the data. The vision will be realised by exploiting the unique experimental infrastructure provided by UCL and ICL. The first year will be an MRes structure with the entire cohort receiving laboratory based practical training in techniques ubiquitous to modern day materials characterisation such as vacuum technology, scanning probe microscopy, optical characterisation techniques and clean-room processing. Key analytical skills will be taught such as data handling, manipulation and interpretation, practiced on real data, exploiting facilities such as Imperials ToF-SIMS analysis suite and UCL chemistry's material modelling user interface. We will engage with industry to generate genuine problem-based characterisation case studies so that elements of the course will be founded on problem based learning. Visiting professors such as Mark Dowsett (Warwick University) and Hidde Brongersma(Calipso BV) will contribute to the training experience and some external courses will be used for specialist training, for example at ISIS. Traditional lectures will be limited in number with every sub-topic leading into an interactive problem class run by one of our extensive number of industry partners.

In our CDT ACM the thrill of solving class problems together and of competing in team-based experimental challenges will produce a highly engaged, critically minded, close-knit team of students.

Planned Impact

Advanced materials characterisation is fundamental to the development of new products and new materials; it has a pivotal role in key EPSRC thematic areas including Energy, IT, Healthcare, Security and Transport. However a skills gap is emerging and there are insufficient PhD students being trained in this area to meet the needs of industry and this in turn will limit the rate at which industry can develop new materials and devices. It is now essential that we train a critical mass of scientists in advanced materials characterisation techniques and applications. The aim of this CDT is, therefore, to produce trained cohorts of scientists who will graduate with a broad range of expertise in advanced materials characterisation across many length and energy scales as well as with in-depth expertise in specialist areas of characterisation. Advances in electronics, photovoltaics, corrosion, biomaterials, advanced ceramics, composites, advanced metal alloys for transport, membranes, nanotechnology, fullerenes and graphene depend on the detailed characterisation of the bulk, interfaces and surfaces of the constituent materials. Future benefits of nanomaterials rely on sophisticated feedback of the material properties during the R&D phase.

The research undertaken during the course of the CDT will be based on challenge led problems developed in conjunction with our industrial partners, and the graduating cohorts will be research scientists whose expertise will facilitate the development of new materials. Development of novel approaches to materials characterisation may be one outcome, as well as the potential to develop new sample environments for use in, for example, ambient pressure XPS, or at large scale facilities. Our students will develop expertise in a range of cutting edge techniques, apply these to complex materials problems, and work strongly with partners. Examples of the impact of this approach can be taken from the thematic areas outlined in the full case for support. In energy materials the development of next generation devices with extended lifetimes and durability relies on developing a full understanding of surface and near surface chemistry under in operando conditions. These measurements are only possible with advanced techniques such as APPES, in combination with structural and electrochemical measurements. This presents a unique challenge and has significant impact for the developers of these technologies in the UK, EU, USA and Asia. Indeed demonstration fuel cells for example are currently being deployed, but cost reductions are required. In this sector alone (renewable energy) there is a current estimated market size of £12bn with over 110,000 employees in the UK alone. Major materials advances, accessed through understanding the underpinning science, will dramatically affect this market, and the CDT will support the next generation of world leading scientists that will deliver the economic benefits for the UK that these technologies offer. The consequence of our training philosophy is that the next generation of scientists working on materials characterisation will provide the innovation and creativity required to lead the world in the development and manufacture of new materials. This will have real impact on the quality of life of future generations through improvements in areas such as Energy, IT, Healthcare, Security and Transport mentioned above.


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