Charaterising the Morph Age

Tuesday 2nd November 2010
Morphing: Saifu using Magneclay turns a computer dispaly into braille or morphs relief of pictures, with a 3D morphing ball screen saver and shape morphing textiles in the design of space. Courtesy:

As David Cameron has committed some £200m funding for a network of new technology and innovation centres to support high tech companies, Universities in the UK and further afield have been working assiduously to develop just such centres, that morph between materials and disciplines as with the Mechanics of Materials Research Group at Leicester.

This unique combination of academics, researchers and students from both Materials Science and Computational Mechanics backgrounds, creates an ideal environment for research that integrates modern experimental with computational technologies.
Professors Helen Atkinson, Sarah Hainsworth (right)  and Jingzhe Pan are in the group  based at the £3m Michael Atiyah building, shared with Space Centre & Applied Mathematics, to provide good opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration.

It has state-of-the-art facilities in a £1.5m Advanced Microscopy Centre which is led by Prof Sarah Hainsworth   of the MoM group.

Computational work benefits from ALICE  - a new High Performance Computing (HPC) cluster, purchased through a £2m CIF award to the University and launched in July.

Leicester University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Robert Burgess will open the new £1m Engineering Materials Integration Centre (MaTIC ) in the University of Leicester’s iconic Stirling/Gowan Engineering Building

The hi-tech engineering centre will work with industry to drive innovation in materials technology. The aim of MaTIC is to provide expertise and know-how of advanced technology that can be used to solve complex engineering and scientific problems.
The centre bristles with technologies to help industry to work with academics and tackle the materials challenges of the future, according to the Head of the new Centre  Professor  Hainsworth.
She said: “The purpose for the centre is underpinned by industry’s critical need to develop new materials and processes.  The materials that are being developed are the next generation of materials that will help to make more efficient aero- and automotive engines. The new materials contribute to decreasing CO2 emissions and improving the environmental impact of transport – this will help society to meet targets for minimising impact on climate change.  
“The new centre will also engage in forensic work which has an impact on the way in which violent crime is understood and interpreted.”  
Professor Hainsworth explained that Materials played an important role in, for example, driving new innovations in approaches to reducing environmental emissions and improving energy efficiency.
She added: " It is the integration of our analytical and experimental techniques that is key and that allows us to have better insight into materials processing or materials implementation - be that by casting or chemical reactions. 
“Integration is important not only for new materials but also in areas such as geology where the new techniques allow microfossils to be examined in new ways that give exciting information about their 3D structure.  We are delighted to have created this new Materials technology integration centre and particularly look forward to working with industry in solving materials challenges for the future.”
The Centre includes a range of advanced equipment for the understanding of the materials behaviour.
Examples of the equipment include:
• a Raman Spectroscope for understanding the chemical bonding in materials.  This will be used to assess advanced coatings that reduce friction and help improve efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions in automotive applications; for forensic investigations related to archaeology, museum artefacts and trace deposits  as paints.  Raman spectroscopy can also  characterise in-situ chemical reactions, or how new lubricants interact with engineering surfaces.
• A micro-computed X-ray tomograph used for tracking solidification reactions in aerospace alloys applications and studying micro-fossils. 

Uniquely, the micro-computed tompograph is co-located with differential scanning calorimetry and single pan calorimeters to allow novel in-situ experiments to be performed and track solidification of metals. This allows understanding of how to manipulate metal microstructures to create high strength, good creep resistance materials to permit aerospace manufacturers to develop more energy efficient engines.
• The Centre also comprises equipment to quantify the sharpness of knives and other weapons used for inflicting injury. 
Professor John Fothergill (right) Head of the Department of Engineering said: “Development of new materials has been vital to the development of mankind.

Indeed the naming of the “ages” of mankind after materials - the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age – demonstrate the importance that mankind places in materials.
“Across the University of Leicester’s College of Science and Engineering, research and development in the area of materials forms an important theme. New materials and fabrication processes are developed through advanced experimental, microscopy and characterisation techniques, and through theoretical and computer modelling processes.  
“ As well as furthering our understanding of materials within current University research, the Centre will enable us to develop further our collaborations with engineering industry for the benefit of the UK.”
The centre is jointly funded by the Higher Education  Funding Council's Capital Infrastructure Fund and the University of Leicester.

Currently new EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing are all working at various stages and part of an approach to maximise the impact of innovative research by opening up new industries and markets in growth areas.  They have five  years funding to staff, develop collaborations, do feasibility studies and support up to two major research projects.

New EPSRC Centres are for ‘innovative manufacturing’ in 'liquid metal engineering' at Brunel University; 'regenerative medicine' at Loughborough University and 'photonics' at Southampton University.

The Complex Product System Innovation Centre is a joint venture between Science and Technology Policy Research at University of Sussex with Brighton University’s Centre for Research in Innovation Management working with Imperial College Business School’s Innovation and Cranfield University’s Innovation Leadership Centre.

In 2009 the Welsh government set up the £28.66m funding of an Advanced Composite Training and Development Centre for composite wing technology at Broughton and Sheffield University's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing dedicated to developing innovative technology solutions for advanced materials forming in Rotherham.

Keep an eye on what the world is doing
In Japan, the Toyohashi University of Technology this month opens the Electronics Inspired Interdisciplinary Research Institute EIIRIS.

This flagship research complex aims at a focus on brain/neuro electronics as well as tackling some of the major human challenges which includes climate change and aging societies.

Its official launch coincides with an international symposium which ranges from MEMS development and optical applications, to heterogeneous process integration, haptic technologies for teleoperation communications, microfluidic  devices, and integration of CMOS and N/MEMS actuators.

In Canada food packaging gets smart
A new research chair has been established that will focus on the development of new food packaging materials. Called the NSERC/Saputo /Excel Pac Industrial Research Chair in Materials and films for safe, smart & sustainable (3S) packaging, the chair has a $2.6mn operating budget over the next 5 years.

New chairholder is Dr Abdellah Ajji, associate professor in Polytechnique Montreal's Department of Chemical Engineering.  Research will be aimed at developing  multi-layer packaging that uses materials and films with functional properties for greater safety, possible detection of bacteria and the use of biodegradable materials.

"The expected spinoffs from our research will benefit Canadian companies as well as consumers," says Dr Ajji. "They will benefit from greater competitiveness and safer packaging. Over the coming years, annual growth of about 5% to 6% is anticipated. This shows the importance of pushing the limits of research into higher-performance packaging."

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is contributing $1.25m to the funding, while private-sector partners Saputo and Excel Pac are each contributing $625,000, the Polytechnique contributing the rest.

Dr Ajji will work with a team of about 20 researchers, (two research associates, four postdoctoral fellows and 12 graduate students.)  The research team will use the partners' facilities, including Polytechnique's Centre de recherche en plasturgie et composites (Centre for Applied Research on Polymers and Composites - CREPEC) and Polynov Laboratory.
The researchers will focus on developing: safe and cost-effective packaging that has greater airtightness and anti-bacterial properties; "smart" packaging that incorporates means of detection; 
sustainable packaging using recyclable, biodegradable materials; and
 specific applications using multi-layer for pouches in which contents can be cooked.

Perhaps Universities globally should be morphing their inter-university profiles, which could complement people strengths with the all important and expensive equipment.  It would create a very different facial aspect to the new Morph Age

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