It is quite clear that the opportunity to identify, create and exploit new materials to meet the challenges we face in health, engineering, energy and environment has never been greater. Indeed, the scope for exploiting the possibilities of functional bulk and nanomaterials, through synthesising and investigating new compositions and device formats to understand the associated process issues, spans all sectors. Applying this knowledge to metals, polymers, composites, ceramics, semiconductors and pharmaceuticals will be central to future UK economic growth. So it is encouraging to see that this is being fully recognised under the Birmingham Science City initiative in Advanced Materials.

A part of this new initiative is a multi-million pound Advantage West Midlands and ERDF funded project which invests in the research infrastructure of the West Midlands, uniting the regions two leading research-intensive universities - Birmingham and Warwick - in the newly formed Science City Research Alliance. This new collaboration provides world leading research and knowledge support across three major research themes – Advanced Materials, Energy Futures and Translational Medicine.

With an investment of over £20M in state-of-the-art equipment for research in advanced materials, the project has built upon and expanded specific expertise in both nano and bulk functional materials, their properties and applications. Investment includes the Solid-State NMR and high-resolution x-ray diffraction facilities at the University of Warwick, the novel cluster beam source at the University of Birmingham and the JEOL Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope.

What makes this initiative different and at the same time challenging is its focus on research collaboration with industry other academic institutions.

What's on offer?

The Advanced Materials theme focuses on three key areas in both nano and bulk functional materials:

• Creating and characterising the next generation of Advance Materials
• Innovative uses for Advanced Materials in the modern world

Industrial Applications

The Advanced Materials theme is focused on four wide areas of industrial application:

• Functional material applications – those that exhibit properties such as electronic, magnetic or optical responses and are incorporated into functional devices and systems.

Functional materials have a major role to play in materials for computing technology, sensing, electronics and in harsh environments such as in high-temperature engine monitoring or off-shore wind turbines.

• Structural material applications – is a highly diverse area with links to a wide range of sectors such as transportation, energy, construction, healthcare and defence. Some of the key challenges

• how can materials be engineered to withstand more aggressive environments?
• how can we reduce environmental impact and gain a full understanding of the life-cycle of a material?

Structural materials play a key role in some of the UK's most advanced areas of manufacturing including, automotive, aerospace and the construction sector.

• Biological material applications – the study of biomaterials is interdisciplinary and areas identified for possible future development include:

• bioresorbables and bioactive materials, together with novel manufacturing routes to achieve new properties in existing materials;
• new interfacial structures for the control of biomaterials-tissue interactions;
• the integration of sensing systems into biomaterials for in-situ implant monitoring.

Biomedical material applications also include scaffolds for stem cell growth, dental and bone replacements, and precision bioconjungates

• Multifunctional materials applications – materials in this area integrate multiple properties some of which are structural and others which are functional (e.g. optical, thermal). Resulting systems include aspects of smart materials, biologically-inspired materials and generally involve all the main materials types such as polymers, ceramics, thin-films and metals. In multifunctional materials, the need is to design materials that accomplish multiple performance objectives in a single system.

Getting Involved

The project is actively looking for both academic and industrial partners who are interested in benefiting from the project, either in short term collaborative research projects and more long term projects. There are a variety of ways of engaging with business, including training staff in using the equipment to allow them to undertake their own research, consultancy support and undertaking specific commercial research.

For more information and ways to get involved contact:

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(10)70092-4