EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Micro- and NanoMaterials and Technologies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering Sciences


We live in a world surrounded by man-made materials that have been engineered to fulfill a specific purpose, from the many components of everyday articles such as razors and mobile phones to the high performance armour used to protect military personnel and the coatings applied to aircraft to mitigate the effects of lightning strikes. These achievements have been made possible through a profound understanding of the linkages between how a material is made, what structure it has (over a range of length scales), what properties result and how all of these factors ultimately determine the performance of the material in a specific application, be it for a few minutes or many tens of years. Often selecting the most suitable material, then designing its microstructure and processing it in a cost-effective and sustainable manner such that it is optimised for performance, is crucial to the 'enablement' of a new technology; conversely, failure to understand the vital role of materials can lead to missed business opportunities.

Currently, there is a shortage of people with the required level of expertise in materials to meet the needs of UK industry. The Industrial Doctorate Centre in Micro- and NanoMaterials and Technologies (IDC in MiNMaT) aims to meet those needs by providing the UK with materials science and engineering doctoral graduates, with the combination of knowledge, translatable research expertise, interpersonal skills and confidence to enable them to tackle the most challenging materials problems and make a real impact on the performance and international presence of UK industry.

This will be achieved by building on a foundation of international excellence in materials science and engineering, world-leading expertise in characterisation and a proven track record in delivering a highly regarded Engineering Doctorate (EngD) programme. This is a four-year research degree comprising a taught element and a research element, although within the MiNMaT IDC they are interwoven to form a coherent programme rather than being distinct parts. The research engineer (as the student is known) is based with their industrial sponsor, working on their research problems at their premises for the whole programme. Their focus is the solution of academically challenging and industrially relevant processing-microstructure-property-performance relationship problems. Taking place over all four years, carefully integrated intensive short courses (normally one week duration, at the University) form the taught component. These courses build on each other and augment the research. By using a core set of courses, graduates from a number of physical science/engineering disciplines can acquire the necessary background in materials. This capacity is essential as demand for materials scientists and engineers cannot be met without adding to the numbers of students who have studied materials at undergraduate level.

Thus, the IDC in MiNMaT offers a solution to the UK's need for 'employment-ready', well-rounded graduates with excellent materials science and engineering research credentials.

Planned Impact

Materials science and engineering is a key 'enabling' discipline underpinning many others. Hence the research engineers (REs) studying for their engineering doctorates (EngDs) as members of the Industrial Doctorate Centre in Micro- and NanoMaterials and Technologies (IDC in MiNMaT) undertake projects that span a large number of industries covering a broad spectrum of materials technologies. Consequentially, the impact of the research undertaken by the REs is wide-ranging.

Given the emphasis placed on solving processing-microstructure-property-performance relationship problems, which are both academically challenging and industrially relevant, the industrial sector is a key beneficiary group for the IDC. Specifically, as the RE is embedded in the sponsoring company, impact is achieved earlier than might be expected for a university-based project. Our current REs have already achieved impact through changes to business practices which have resulted in the creation of new processes or products or improvements to existing ones, ultimately generating economic growth. Our current sponsors have said that the work of the REs has '.helped us enlarge our product range' and '...assisted in guiding and accelerating new product and process development' and that '...successful completion of the project, which is on target, will be of real benefit'.

The shortage of materials graduates has been highlighted in a number of reviews and hence impact for the industrial sector will also be achieved through the training of research engineers, such that they are ready to enter employment and lead the next generation of materials research. A current sponsor comments '..a new recruit into the field, of [name]'s calibre, can only be a very good thing for the UK'.

In terms of the scientific community, impact is and will be achieved via publications in high quality peer-reviewed journals (a mandatory part of the programme) and presentations at conferences (over 30 since the first REs joined the IDC in 2009). These vital routes to dissemination provide a conduit to enable effective knowledge transfer of the research being undertaken in industry to the wider scientific community. Further, the IDC runs a unique annual conference, which provides an additional route to keep our community informed of the latest developments. Additionally, our industrial sponsors really value the opportunity to mix with other sector organisations in a way which they do not do elsewhere. The event also provides an opportunity to attract and engage with new industrial partners, widening the community and supporting the sustainability of the IDC.

Finally, the IDC will have a significant impact on the REs by increasing their employability skills. Specifically, the programme works with industry to ensure that the REs are developing the necessary skills needed by industry. The EngD programme has many benefits for an individual. Principally, the time that the RE spends with their industrial sponsor is key to giving them the context and confidence to operate effectively in the commercial environment. Further, REs benefit from having cohorts through peer-to-peer learning and the enhanced networking opportunities that arise from the many RE, academic and sponsor interactions and, as the IDC matures, the alumni network. Finally, the emphasis placed on personal development and the professional ethos that underpins all IDC activities provides the REs with a firm foundation on which to build the rest of their careers.


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