Wonderful World of Smart Materials
University of Bath (UK)
Please explain your research in simple words
I work on functional materials, in particular ferroelectric materials. These are materials with fascinating properties such as piezoelectric and pyroelectric properties. This allows them to be used in applications such as pressure/thermal sensor, actuators, SONAR other transducers.
No lab work due to lockdown in the UK. Therefore I will provide an introduction to these materials and also my activities during the week in the lockdown and how I am adapting.
What can the followers expect in your curation week?
How did you end up in your current research field?
I liked chemistry at school but I did not want to specialise and I was terrible at titration! Therefore, materials science seemed an interesting option for a generalist like me. I became interested in ceramic materials during the materials science degree and therefore considered a PhD in that area. After completing my degree and a period working as a defence research scientist on SONAR, I specialised in the area of piezoelectric materials. I was lucky enough to be offered a lectureship at the University of Bath and focussed on smart materials when I joined.
My interest in ceramics falls in materials, in particular ferroelectric ceramics. These materials consist of ferroelectric domains with a switchable polarisation direction and there are certainly nano-scale effects. My main interest is at the microstructure level, such as the formation of composite structures to combine polymer and ceramics to improve properties and provide mechanical flexibility.
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?
I recently finished a European Research Council Advanced Investigator Award in the area of energy harvesting. I aimed to use my materials to convert mechanical vibrations and heat into electrical energy for low-power electronics such as wireless sensors. It was a wonderful experience and certainly raised my profile, with research publications that I am very proud of.
I am based in a mechanical engineering department, therefore my main courses are related to materials selection and fundamental material properties.
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. Less reliance on metrics and greater reliance on quality and enjoyment of work.
2. To continue to find nice people to work with.
3. To focus on enjoying research, and helping others enjoy it too.
I am currently in lockdown in the UK, so I guess some return to normality is my short term goal. I love to write, therefore I will look forward to writing publications and working with research staff, PhD students and collaborators. We are all facing challenges, so the key is to support each other.
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?
Again an interesting question in the current climate. There is likely to be a number of challenges, in particular how the Universities going to reopen in light of the virus, the future funding landscape and economic challenges from funding bodies and industry. These are likely to be the main issues rather than technical. Longer-term multi-disciplinary research is important to get new ideas. I have learnt that by being open-minded materials scientist based in a mechanical engineering department.