Cutting Through the Hype about 3D Printing
Department of Mechanical Engineering
The University of Sheffield (UK)
Please explain your research in simple words
My research is focussed around Additive Manufacturing (more commonly known as 3D Printing). 3D Printing is a collection of manufacturing processes which are particularly good at making things with complex shapes, meaning they open up a lot of design possibilities that used to be super inefficient to achieve. My specific area is on understanding the ways in which materials and processes interact, and using that information to help develop better and more useful materials.
During my curation week I'm going to tell you a bit about my career journey so far and some of the highs and lows! I'll give you a quick introduction to 3D Printing and why I love it so much, some of my personal favourites in terms of processes and developments, and then I'll take the opportunity to tell you about some of the cool research we're doing in my team!
What can the followers expect in your curation week?
How did you end up in your current research field?
Completely by accident! During the last part of my final year of my Undergraduate degree (Mechanical Engineering at Loughborough University, UK) we had a guest lecture about 3D Printing (back then it was known mainly as Rapid Prototyping) and I was just blown away by it. The possibilities for where it could be used seemed almost endless, and I just knew it was what I wanted to be doing! I was able to find a Masters course that was just starting in that area, and everything went on from there!
A lot of what I and my team do is to explore how materials behave in our 3D Printing processes, and how the parts they produce behave in the longer term. It's never as simple as 'stick a material in the machine and something good will come out'! My specific interest is in powdered-polymer 3D Printing processes, and we end up looking at everything from the physical size and shape of our powders, their thermal and chemical characteristics, the microstructure and mechanical properties of the resultant parts, and we're in the middle of some work looking at how their properties change over time and dependent on their environment. Figuring out how one thing influences everything else, and how we might be able to use that to make things work better, is really interesting to work on.
How and where does your research fall in the domain of materials/nano science?
Which research project are you most proud of and could you explain it in simple words in the section we call #InOtherwords?
Argh, it's too hard to pick just one!!!! If I had to, I'd say it's some work we did looking at introducing anti-bacterial properties into 3D Printed parts. This meant bringing together a small team of researchers with 3D Printing and micro-biology experience in order to make things work. In simple words, we take a silver-based material that we know works to kill bacteria, mix it in with some of our standard materials, and use it to make parts. What's super interesting is that we found it worked better in some cases than in others, which is great because it gives us more things to look into!
I'd done a fair bit of teaching while at Loughborough, but when I started as an academic I was able to start up a new 3D Printing taught module. Being able to design it from scratch and then keep developing it over time has been really fun and rewarding.
If you teach, which are the courses would you like to mention?
If you had 3 wishes to improve your research experience, what would you ask for (not promising anything here!)?
1) A fairer and more equitable research landscape, where everyone has a fair shot at getting a position, and then has a good and equal experience while in that position. 2)More long-term funding for researchers to work as part of a team but across multiple projects. Supporting my PhD students and researchers to carry on with the research they want to do is the thing that most keeps me awake at night!
3) Enough unanswered research questions in my area to keep me going until its time to think about retirement!!!
Work-wise, getting experimental work up and running again. Before lockdown we had several things almost complete, and some exciting projects just starting up, so getting those moving again will be great. I'm lucky enough to have a super enthusiastic team of excellent people, and I think it will be really good for them to be able to get back to working on those things as long as we can be sure to keep them safe. On a personal level, I really can't wait to see the new Fast and Furious movie when its finally released!
What are you most looking forward to in the next 3 months?
Which challenges/questions is the nano/materials science field facing at the moment?
I think one of the biggest challenges (probably true for most research) is in explaining what we do in an easy-to-understand way. It's super easy to slip into loads of specific technical detail which is only understandable to other experts in the same area. If we could all do better at explaining things in a more useful way, I think we'd find a whole load of new areas for collaboration and new ideas!