EPSRC and SFI Centre for Doctoral Training in the Advanced Characterisation of Materials (CDT-ACM)

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Materials

Abstract

Materials characterisation is critical to the understanding of key processes in a range of functional and structural materials that have applications across several industrial sectors. These sectors include strategic priorities such as discovery of functional materials, energy storage and conversion and materials manufacturing, and healthcare. Materials characterisation is increasing in complexity, driven by a need to understand how materials properties evolve in operando, over their full lifetimes and over all levels of their hierarchy to predict their ultimate performance. The new generation of materials characterisation techniques will require: 1. Greater spatial and chemical resolution; 2. Correlated information that bridges nano- and centimeter -length scales, to relate the nanoscale chemistry and structure of interest to their intrinsically multi-scale surroundings, and 3. Temporal information about the kinetics of materials behaviour in extreme environments. The CDT will train students in a range of complementary techniques, ensuring that they have the breadth and depth of knowledge to make informed choices when considering key characterisation challenges. Our CDT will use an integrated training approach, to ensure that the technical content is well aligned with the research objectives of each student. This training in specific research needs will be informed by our industry partners and will reflect the suite of research projects that the students will undertake. Our portfolio of research projects will provide an innovative and ambitious research and training experience that will enhance the UK's long-term capabilities across high value industrial sectors.

Additionally, our students will receive training in a range of topics that will support their research progress including in science communication, research ethics, career development planning and data science. These additional courses will be distributed throughout the 4-year PhD programme and will ensure that a cohesive training plan is in place for each student, supported by cohort mentors. Each student graduating from the CDT-ACM will leave will a through understanding of the key challenges presented by materials characterisation problems, and have the tools to provide creative solutions to these. They will have first hand experience of collaborating with industry partners and will be well placed to address the strategic needs of the UK Industrial Strategy.

Our training will be developed in collaboration with leading partner organisations, and include international collaboration with the AMBER centre, a Science Foundation Ireland centre, as well as national facilities such as Diamond Light Source. Innovative on-line and remote instrument access will be developed that will enable both UK and Irish cohorts to interact seamlessly. Industry partners will be closely involved in designing and delivering training activities including at summer schools, and will include entrepreneurship activities.
Overall the 70 students that will be trained over the lifetime of the CDT will receive excellent tuition and research training at two world leading institutions with unique characterisation abilities.

Planned Impact

The production and processing of materials accounts for 15% of UK GDP and generates exports valued at £50bn annually, with UK materials related industries having a turnover of £197bn/year. It is, therefore, clear that the success of the UK economy is linked to the success of high value materials manufacturing, spanning a broad range of industrial sectors. In order to remain competitive and innovate in these sectors it is necessary to understand fundamental properties and critical processes at a range of length scales and dynamically and link these to the materials' performance. It is in this underpinning space that the CDT-ACM fits.

The impact of the CDT will be wide reaching, encompassing all organisations who research, manufacture or use advanced materials in sectors ranging from energy and transport to healthcare and the environment. Industry will benefit from the supply of highly skilled research scientists and engineers with the training necessary to advance materials development in all of these crucial areas. UK and international research facilities (Diamond, ISIS, ILL etc.) will benefit greatly from the supply of trained researchers who have both in-depth knowledge of advanced characterisation techniques and a broad understanding of materials and their properties. UK academia will benefit from a pipeline of researchers trained in state-of the art techniques in world leading research groups, who will be in prime positions to win prestigious fellowships and lectureships. From a broader perspective, society in general will benefit from the range of planned outreach activities, such as the Mary Rose Trust, the Royal Society Summer Exhibition and visits to schools. These activities will both inform the general public and inspire the next generation of scientists.

The cohort based training offered by the CDT-ACM will provide the next generation of research scientists and engineers who will pioneer new research techniques, design new multi-instrument workflowand advance our knowledge in diverse fields. We will produce 70 highly qualified and skilled researchers who will support the development of new technologies, in for instance the field of electric vehicles, an area of direct relevance to the UK industrial impact strategy.
In summary, the CDT will address a skills gap that has arisen through the rapid development of new characterisation techniques; therefore, it will have a positive impact on industry, research facilities and academia and, consequently, wider society by consolidating and strengthening UK leadership in this field.

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