Julie Cairney - 2021 Acta Materialia Silver Medal Recipient
Julie Cairney - 2021 Acta Materialia Silver Medal Recipient

The recipient of the 2021 Acta Materialia Silver Medal is Professor Julie Cairney, the Director of the Australian Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis at the University of Sydney and CEO of Microscopy Australia, an Australian National Collaborative Infrastructure Initiative. Prof. Cairney is a specialist in using advanced microscopy to study the three-dimensional structure of materials at the atomic scale. She is also a passionate contributor to the broader scientific community, and was selected as one of the World Economic Forum’s 50 Young Scientists of 2016.

Prof. Cairney has made vital contributions to developing and applying new microscopy technologies that have been adopted in microscopy labs around the world and allowed her to make an impact across a range of research fields. She is a world expert in the development and application of atom probe microscopy techniques.

Recently, she established in her laboratory, a custom-designed cryogenic transfer set-up that has allowed her to provide world-first 3D maps that show the distribution of hydrogen around the common microstructural features in steels. This work included the first ever observations of hydrogen at dislocations, finally providing a concrete validation of the theory of hydrogen-enhanced dislocation mobility as a mechanism of hydrogen embrittlement. It also provided the first direct observations of hydrogen at the interface between incoherent precipitates and the surrounding steel matrix, settling a long-standing debate around whether hydrogen trapping is an interfacial effect (it is). It is expected that this cryo-transfer protocol will become a routine approach to study hydrogen in materials in the future. It can also be used for cryogenically frozen soft matter, potentially opening up a whole new application area for atom probe microscopy.

In a different area of microscopy, Prof. Cairney has worked with one of her technical staff, Patrick Trimby, in developing materials applications for a new technique for crystal orientation mapping in the scanning electron microscope, called ‘transmission Kikuchi diffraction’. A 10-fold increase in resolution has allowed orientation mapping methods to be applied to the study of nano-scale microstructural features. Their paper on this topic was one of the most downloaded papers in Acta Materialia in 2014. With its ease of set-up, this method is rapidly becoming a standard characterization tool in microscopy labs worldwide.

She has also made significant contributions to industry, having have worked with BlueScope Steel to design a new range of strip cast steels that are strengthened by the atomic-scale clustering of atoms, and with Weir Minerals Australia to produce tougher, wear resistant alloys for components to reduce the downtime in Australian mines. Both of these products reached commercial production trials. She has also founded a successful start-up company that sells microscopy components developed in her lab, now servicing over 30 laboratories worldwide.

As CEO of Microscopy Australia, she champions open access microscopy infrastructure in Australia, ensuring that Australian materials researchers have access to essential microscopy infrastructure, no matter where they work. In this role, she has overseen a significant expansion to Microscopy Australia’s open-access online learning modules, MyScope (https://myscope.training/), which are used by more than 150,000 researchers each year, many of them in the field of materials. As a World Economic Forum Young Scientist, she co-authored a Code of Ethics that has been endorsed by Sir Philip Campbell, the Editor in Chief of the journal Nature .

She serves as Vice President of the International Field Emission Society (which represents the atom probe community). She is an advisory board member for the microscopy journal Ultramicroscopy. She has chaired panels for the Australian and New Zealand funding agencies and served on panels for their most prestigious schemes (Centres of Excellence and Marsden). She has chaired a number of conferences in her field including CAMS, Australia’s national materials conference, and was the scientific chair (Physical Sciences) for the International Microscopy Congress, Sydney, 2016 (the leading microscopy conference worldwide, which typically attracts ~3000 attendees).

Prof. Cairney will receive the Acta Materialia Silver Medal at the 150th Anniversary TMS meeting to be held in Orlando, Florida in March 2021.