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University of Leicester inaugurates materials technology centre

04 November 2010

The University of Leicester has launched a new £1million hi-tech engineering centre that will work with industry to drive innovation in materials technology. Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Robert Burgess (pictured) opened The Engineering Materials Integration Centre (MaTIC ) on Tuesday November 2 in the University of Leicester’s iconic Stirling/Gowan Engineering Building. The event was attended by academic and industry representatives.

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 is bristling with technologies that help industry to work with academics to tackle the materials challenges of the future, according to the Head of the new Centre Professor Sarah 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: “In order to better understand new materials, new analytical and experimental techniques are required to drive new knowledge.  However, 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. 

“The 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 include:

• a Raman Spectroscope for understanding the chemical bonding in materials.  This will be used for assessing advanced coatings that reduce friction and hence help improve efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions in automotive applications, and for forensic investigations related to archaeology, museum artefacts and other trace deposits such as paints.  The Raman spectroscope can also be used for characterizing in-situ chemical reactions and understanding the way in which new lubricants interact with engineering surfaces.

• A micro-computed X-ray tomograph will be used for tracking solidification reactions in alloys used for aerospace applications and studying micro-fossils.  Uniquely, the micro-computed tompograph is co-located with differential scanning calorimetry and single pan calorimeters to allow a range of novel in-situ experiments to be performed that allow us to track solidification of metals.  This tracking allows understanding of how metal microstructures can be manipulated to create high strength materials with good creep resistance - important for allowing 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, the Head of the Department of Engineering said:

“The 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, the Bronze Age, and the 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. 

“The new Materials Technology Integration Centre, will add to the existing very considerable equipment base in the College and in the Department of Engineering with some cutting-edge analytical apparatus and expertise.  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 brings together engineers and scientists across the University to apply new technologies to a range of problems, with the aim of developing cross-cutting projects that bring together multi-disciplinary teams that tackle big societal problems. Located in the Department of Engineering, it allows collaboration across the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Leicester and supports activities in the Departments of Engineering, Geology, Chemistry and Physics. The centre is jointly funded by the Higher Education  Funding Council's Capital Infrastructure Fund and the University of Leicester.

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