The Development of Novel High-Performance Advanced Microstructured Materials and their Associated Continuum Models

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Mathematics


This is an extension of the Fellowship: 'NEMESIS' (New Mathematics for Materials Modelling in the Engineering Sciences and Industrial Sectors).

Advanced materials sit at the heart of modern technology and are at the forefront of many improvements in quality of life. Key to enhancing material properties is a deep understanding of the link from microstructure to macroscale properties. This requires a diverse range of science including theoretical modelling, computational simulation and experimentation. This Fellowship Extension project sits at the triple point of these approaches and principally, uses the experience of the team, in particular in advanced mathematical modelling in order to design new materials for a range of applications. Three themes will be considered, "Reinforced syntactic foams", "Acoustic metamaterials" and "Thermal metamaterials" and a programme of Public Engagement will illustrate the research to a wide audience.

Syntactic foams offer stiff, lightweight materials with strong recoverability, even after significant loading. This theme will investigate the ability of reinforcements including families of 2D materials and other micro and nano fillers in order to enhance stiffness whilst maintaining weight and recoverability. Iteration between models and experiments will ensure that optimise properties are determined. Applications are in marine structures, although a very well-publicised use of syntactic foams was in the football used in the 2006 world cup!

Acoustic metamaterials are providing us with new way to manipulate sound. This theme builds on the recent work of the principal investigator's team where, together with an industrial partner he developed and subsequently built microstructured materials that were able to simultaneously slow down sound and also ensure that sound could penetrate the structure. This is a highly non-trivial task and the realisation of such a medium means that it can now potentially be employed in applications where it is important to manipulate sound. Classical examples are in sound attenuation devices, which using this approach could be made more compact. This theme will therefore look to better the designs using more complex microstructures and utilise the medium in more complex geometries.

Thermal metamaterials are new media that look to manipulate heat flow and temperature fields. Research so been to direct thermal fields so that regions of space fare protected from high temperatures. In many applications associated with thermal efficiency, it is important to ensure uniform temperature distributions in electronic devices or regions of space within those devices. This is difficult to achieve in complex geometries. This project will look to design and realise new thermal metamaterials whose aim is to be deployed in specific complex geometries in order to ensure thermal uniformity and therefore enhanced heat dissipation and thus improved energy efficiency.

The public engagement theme will use results from the original Fellowship of the PI, together with new results from the Extension in order to devise a programme of public engagement with the specific remit of widening participation in Mathematics, Science and Engineering. This will be achieved by devising talks and events aimed at School children, using stands and exhibitions at Science fairs, national competitions and web and social media presence in order to reach out to as broad a community as possible. This inter-disciplinary project is ideal for this in the sense that it sits many academic fields, with its core in Applied Mathematics but employing ideas from Materials Science, Chemistry, Engineering and Physics in order to achieve its goals.

Planned Impact

A range of mechanisms are in place in order to ensure that this multidisciplinary project will give rise to significant impact beyond academia, associated with all three of the scientific themes as well as the overarching public engagement (PE) theme. The principal investigator and team have broad experience in delivering such impact.

The close connections of the project with two industrial partners means that there is immediate direct benefit to industry associated with the development of new reinforced syntactic foams, acoustic metamaterials and thermal metamaterials. This will give rise to immediate benefit within the fields of the industrial partners by virtue of the deployment of such new technologies within products developed by these companies and associated in-house software improvements. Methodological and technical improvements associated with modelling will also be taken up by these industries.

As identified in the pathways to impact however the team also have plans to broaden this impact by engaging with additional industrial partners in other fields of research as the project develops. This will ensure broader impact in a wider range of fields of technology.

The development of new materials and their deployment in new technologies and devices frequently lead to quality-of-life improvements and this is certainly envisaged with the materials developed in this project. There is therefore key societal benefit by improving materials design. Specifically here the idea is to develop new stiff, lightweight materials that can be deployed in e.g. aerospace, automotive and marine applications and new microstructure materials that can be employed to reduce noise pollution and to make devices more thermally efficient.

The careers of the junior members of the team will be enhanced significantly by their interaction with the project. Two postdoctoral research associates and a public engagement manager (funded by the project) and two PhD students (funded by the University of Manchester and Dyson) will all be involved in the multi-disciplinary project that spans applied mathematics, materials science and engineering and they will therefore will develop a wide range of both technical and soft skills.

The broad range of public engagement activities planned within the project has the potential to have a significant impact on the public understanding of science and more specifically on Applied Mathematics and its link to Complex materials, their design and their role in society. The programme will link with schools and the wider public by virtue of talks in schools and modelling workshops, science fairs, online competitions and engagement with social media. The general core philosophy is to provide motivation as to the importance of mathematical modelling and its influence in important fields such as materials modelling.


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Berjamin H (2021) On the thermodynamic consistency of Quasi-linear viscoelastic models for soft solids in Mechanics Research Communications

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GarcĂ­a Neefjes E (2022) A unified framework for linear thermo-visco-elastic wave propagation including the effects of stress-relaxation in Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

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Gower AL (2019) A proof that multiple waves propagate in ensemble-averaged particulate materials. in Proceedings. Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

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Haughton J (2022) Bayesian inference on a microstructural, hyperelastic model of tendon deformation in Journal of The Royal Society Interface

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Norris AN (2020) Static elastic cloaking, low-frequency elastic wave transparency and neutral inclusions. in Proceedings. Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

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Russell E (2022) Manipulating thermal fields with inhomogeneous heat spreaders in Applied Mathematical Modelling

Description * We have fully characterised the mechanical behaviour of a specific class of syntactic foam (an all-polymer foam) to a greater level of accuracy than ever before. This allows us to understand its behaviour and to determine how to improve future designs. In particular we are now employing this understanding in order to design nano-reinforced foams, employing a range of nano-fillers to improve stiffness whilst also retaining the damage tolerance of the materials.
* We employed a novel technique to measure the thickness of the shells that are used as fillers for these materials. It was established that, contrary to popular belief, the shell thickness was independent of shell radius. Originally it was thought that the thickness scaled on the filler radius.
* Techniques from transformation thermodynamics were employed to design thermal metamaterials.
* We employed the tools of the project as a starting point for the idea of projects and grants associated with novel materials design, based on physics-driven machine learning. I believe that this has great potential for the future.
Exploitation Route Three industrial partners are interested in the foams that we have modelled in this project. They are particularly interested in:
* the tools that we have used to model the mechanical behaviour
* the technique that we are developing to design new materials with optimised behaviour
* more recently we travelled to the Soleil beamline in France and carried out unprecedented in-situ imaging of the foams under load. Soleil were particularly keen on this because in-situ imaging was a challenge for them in terms of imaging science.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Construction,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Transport

Description SYNTACTIC FOAMS * our close collaboration with Thales UK has been important for their work (details cannot be provided due to confidentiality issues) NOVEL MATERIALS DESIGN * our approach to modelling led to new concepts associated with materials design and in particular the notion of physics-driven machine learning for materials design. This concept led to an Alan Turing Institute pilot project in 2021, with two industrial partners. We are progressing this work in the project via postdoctoral researchers and aim to apply for funding to take this forward as a large grant, almost certainly in collaboration with other institutions. PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT Although affected by COVID, we still managed to carry out a range of public engagement work on research associated with this grant. This included * a paper in the Frontiers for Young Minds in December 2021. * our team appearing at a range of schools and science fairs (where possible, given the pandemic) * a range of online activities, including 3 short animated videos explaining our research to a broad audience, see:
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal