Enterprising future for Oxford

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<ul><li><p>George Smith,Department of Materials,Oxford University,Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PHUK</p><p>Email: george.smith@materials.ox.ac.ukURL: www.materials.ox.ac.uk</p><p>The aims of the Department of Materials at Oxford</p><p>University stretch from cutting edge research to</p><p>encouraging knowledge of materials at school level.</p><p>At a time when some traditional scientific disciplines</p><p>are seeing student numbers fall, materials science </p><p>and Oxford Materials is gaining a higher profile</p><p>than ever before. </p><p>In 2001, Oxford Materials experienced one of the</p><p>most successful years in its 46-year history, says</p><p>head of department George Smith. Top rated in </p><p>The Times newspaper league table of materials</p><p>departments and the UK 2001 Research Assessment</p><p>Exercise, Oxford Materials is also now the largest </p><p>with more active research staff than any other</p><p>materials institution in the country. Comprising </p><p>30 academics, 50 senior researchers, 60 postdocs, </p><p>20 visitors, and 75 research students, 10 of those</p><p>staff received prestigious prizes last year. Awards</p><p>came from bodies as diverse as the Royal Society and</p><p>the US National Academy of Engineering, with an</p><p>additional honor coming in the form of a knighthood</p><p>for former head of department Richard Brooks (now</p><p>on secondment as director of the Leverhulme Trust).</p><p>Blurring the boundariesDuring the last five years, the research objectives of the</p><p>Department have shifted in emphasis towards complex</p><p>multi-materials systems. Instead of categorizing research </p><p>into many subject-specific areas, activities now focus on</p><p>broader problems such as materials for aerospace</p><p>applications, rapid tooling, packaging, and biomedical </p><p>devices. Research is loosely grouped into four generic </p><p>areas characterization, processing, properties, and theory</p><p>and modeling.</p><p>Characterization is a particular strength, with the largest</p><p>concentration of staff involved and a wealth of facilities</p><p>available. Recent research firsts include:</p><p>March 200242 ISSN:1369 7021 Elsevier Science Ltd 2002</p><p>future for OxfordEnterprising</p></li><li><p>INSIGHT FEATURE</p><p> atomic-scale characterization of one-dimensional crystals</p><p>encapsulated in single-wall nanotubes;</p><p> in situ observation of fullerene growth on graphite;</p><p> channeling contrast imaging of dislocation structures at</p><p>fatigue crack tips;</p><p> in situ observation of magnetization reversal in magnetic</p><p>storage device conditions;</p><p> manipulation of single atoms in a scanning tunneling</p><p>microscope at room temperature; and</p><p> direct three-dimensional atom probe observations of</p><p>Cottrell atmospheres around dislocations in iron.</p><p>The development of new analysis and characterization</p><p>techniques is also a strong effort. To look at grain boundaries,</p><p>unusual geometries, or thin films, for example, selective area</p><p>specimen preparation is essential. Researchers at Oxford have</p><p>developed new focused ion beam methods. For surface</p><p>characterization, ultrasonic force microscopy has been</p><p>developed into a quantitative technique, with a technology</p><p>transfer royalty agreement signed with Semitech to produce</p><p>systems commercially. A collaboration with Unilever has led</p><p>to the construction of a tribological atomic force microscope.</p><p>Another technique, high mass resolution scanning atom</p><p>probe, has been developed as part of a BRITE-EURAM project</p><p>to analyze thin films. Atom probes are an area where the</p><p>Department has particular strengths, latterly including the</p><p>spinout company Oxford Nanoscience Ltd., which produces</p><p>three-dimensional atom probe microanalysis equipment.</p><p>Efforts to improve materials processing are concentrated</p><p>at the Oxford Centre for Advanced Materials and Composites</p><p>(OCAMAC), headed up by Patrick Grant. Originally a joint</p><p>enterprise with the Department of Engineering, OCAMAC</p><p>now draws input from the Departments of Physics and</p><p>Chemistry as well. Relations with industry have been</p><p>strengthened with the appointments of visiting professors:</p><p>currently Chris Peel, director of technology for future systems</p><p>at QinetiQ (formerly part of the Defence Evaluation and</p><p>Research Agency); and John Wood, CEO of Central</p><p>Laboratories of the Research Councils (CLRC); and in the past,</p><p>Clive Bradley, former director and now advisor to Sharp</p><p>Laboratories of Europe; and Brian Eyre, former deputy</p><p>director of AEA Technology and chairman of the CLRC. New</p><p>plasma spray techniques and improvements to bond-coats</p><p>have resulted from work with Rolls Royce, while extensive</p><p>work on aluminum casting has been carried out with Alcan.</p><p>With potential benefits for solidification problems, an ultra-</p><p>sensitive calorimeter and software for predicting</p><p>microsegregation in binary alloys has been developed in</p><p>conjunction with the UKs National Physical Laboratory.</p><p>In the field of materials properties, research interests are</p><p>diverse, ranging from the electronic (oxygen transport in</p><p>silicon) to the biomedical (drug delivery system for the</p><p>treatment of wounds). Packaging has been a major area of</p><p>activity in recent years, with the study of layered composites</p><p>leading to various innovations. The research has led to a new</p><p>model of gas barrier properties and deformation behavior, as</p><p>well as a better understanding of how these properties can be</p><p>controlled by growth conditions. The impact has been</p><p>significant existing processes have been improved and</p><p>entirely new processes developed.</p><p>The fourth key area of activity is in theory and modeling.</p><p>Under the direction of Adrian Sutton, the Materials Modelling</p><p>Laboratorys remit is diverse, bringing together both external</p><p>partners and complementary research within the Department.</p><p>In quantum mechanics, recent work includes the development</p><p>of new theories for current-induced forces in metallic</p><p>nanocontacts and giant magneto-resistance. The lab has also</p><p>worked with British Nuclear Fuels to develop ab initio</p><p>methods for predicting the energy of strongly correlated</p><p>oxides. The process of bond formation and breakage during</p><p>chemical vapor deposition has been modeled as part of a US</p><p>Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency effort. On the</p><p>processing side, Monte Carlo methods have been applied to</p><p>clustering, ordering, and phase separation in alloys. Discrete</p><p>dislocation dynamics have proved a successful approach for</p><p>modeling crack tip plasticity, fatigue crack growth, and the</p><p>brittle-to-ductile transition in various materials.</p><p>March 2002 43</p><p>Fig. 1 UK Minister for Science, Lord Sainsbury, with former head of department BrianCantor at the opening ceremony of the Begbroke Business and Science Park.</p></li><li><p>A total annual research income of about 5 million</p><p>supports the work and the state-of-the-art facilities that</p><p>are required. Recent investment in equipment alone, from the</p><p>UK Governments Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF), Joint</p><p>Research Equipment Initiative (JREI), and the Engineering and</p><p>Physical Science Research Council, totals almost 15 million.</p><p>The Department has built up extensive microscopy facilities</p><p>including the UKs only three-dimensional atom probes for</p><p>atomic scale microanalysis; a 400 kV ultra-high resolution</p><p>electron microscope; the UKs first field-emission gun, 300 kV</p><p>analytical electron microscope; a 400 kV electron microscope</p><p>with a gas reaction cell for in situ oxidation and reduction</p><p>work; several 100 kV and 200 kV analytical electron</p><p>microscopes; and a whole range of acoustic and scanning</p><p>probe microscopes. Other facilities include a scanning proton</p><p>microprobe; X-ray characterization equipment; and</p><p>mechanical property testing equipment. Processing facilities</p><p>cover the whole spectrum of requirements, from industrial-</p><p>scale plasma spraying to cleanrooms for prototype device</p><p>fabrication, with polymer web processing facilities for</p><p>packaging materials and functional devices in the pipeline.</p><p>Smith outlines a future emphasis that can be loosely</p><p>arranged into three areas. The all-encompassing nano is</p><p>unsurprisingly a top priority more specifically the</p><p>development and characterization of nanoscale materials and</p><p>devices. Emphasis will also be placed on the hottest of hot</p><p>areas, quantum computing and nanobiomaterials. The</p><p>interface with biological science is also clearly going to be an</p><p>area of growth, says Smith. He places emphasis on an</p><p>alternative to the much-hyped biocompatible materials </p><p>bioincompatible materials (i.e. those materials in which the</p><p>interaction with biological systems is minimized rather than</p><p>maximized). They are, he points out, just as essential as</p><p>biocompatible materials in applications such as dental</p><p>implants (to avoid the attentions of bacteria), in drug</p><p>delivery systems (so that they are not expelled from the body</p><p>before drug release can occur), and microfluidic systems (to</p><p>prevent fouling of the tiny channels). Last, but not at all least,</p><p>is materials processing. What good will all these innovations</p><p>be if actual components and devices cannot be constructed?</p><p>Incubating innovationCentral to realizing future and current aims has been the</p><p>Departments involvement in establishing a new 22 million</p><p>research center in a greenfield site on the outskirts of Oxford.</p><p>While the Begbroke Business and Science Park gives the</p><p>Department room to increase its research facilities, it also</p><p>provides an opportunity to diversify, working with other</p><p>departments of the university, as well as industrial interests. </p><p>Half of the site provides much-needed expansion space for</p><p>Oxford Materials, while the rest is home to an innovation</p><p>center and various materials-related high-tech companies,</p><p>including university spinout startups Oxonica (formerly</p><p>Nanox) and Opsys1. 8 million in JIF infrastructure funding</p><p>secured the Institute for Industrial Materials and</p><p>Manufacturing, along with 6.6 million from collaborating</p><p>companies, SMEs, and government agencies. Researchers</p><p>from outside organizations will be able to collaborate on</p><p>projects with the Departments researchers via a series of</p><p>University Technology Centres and/or Applications</p><p>Laboratories, which have already been set up with AEA</p><p>Technology, QinetiQ, JEOL, Toppan, and Luxfer.</p><p>This approach is already bearing fruit with the first spinout</p><p>from Begbroke launched in 2001. With support from Ford</p><p>Motor Company, the merchant bank Beeson Gregory, and the</p><p>university, Novarc has developed a rapid tooling process that</p><p>could significantly speed up the development of new car</p><p>models and save costs. The sprayforming technology,</p><p>originally developed by Dick Jordan (now a technical director</p><p>of Novarc), sprays molten steel onto molds to create dies and</p><p>tools for production of car parts. The huge advantage of the</p><p>process is that designs can go straight from the computer to</p><p>a ceramic cast, which is then sprayformed with molten steel.</p><p>The new process takes four weeks, compared with the 20-</p><p>week turnaround of traditional methods. </p><p>With Begbroke fully occupied already, future plans are</p><p>underway to take the site into the next phase. Once again,</p><p>Oxford Materials will play a major part. Plans include the</p><p>development of interdisciplinary research institutes focusing</p><p>on nanotechnology, automotive and aerospace engineering,</p><p>and environmental technology. As well as support for</p><p>incubators within research departments, the Begbroke</p><p>Business Incubator and Technology Transfer Unit will provide</p><p>a more structured approach.</p><p>The emphasis on innovation starts at the undergraduate</p><p>level, explains Smith. Degree courses at Oxford Materials will</p><p>now include an option devoted to entrepreneurship, aimed at</p><p>giving students an insight into the commercialization of</p><p>inventions and new technologies. Run by the Oxford Science</p><p>Enterprise Centre at the newly opened Sad Business School</p><p>INSIGHT FEATURE</p><p>March 200244</p></li><li><p>INSIGHT FEATURE</p><p>in Oxford, the course has been piloted by the Department of</p><p>Materials. The course concludes with each student preparing</p><p>a business plan for an invention of their own, an existing</p><p>start-up, or an idea drawn from other sources such as the</p><p>Oxford University patent portfolio. In the interests of</p><p>promoting entrepreneurship throughout all strata of the</p><p>university, the course is open to staff and students alike.</p><p>Initiatives such as this should surely start to change the</p><p>impression of UK science as a source of great ideas that are</p><p>never turned into successful commercial ventures and it is</p><p>good to see a materials department at the forefront. I have</p><p>no shame in looking to the US for ingredients of success,</p><p>says Fiona Reid, deputy director of the enterprise center.</p><p>Including more alumni support, Mayfield fellowships, patient</p><p>investor money and extensive networking. Under the</p><p>direction of Liz Miller, formerly of Oxford Instruments, the</p><p>center will be looking to bring as many entrepreneurs,</p><p>spinout directors, alumni, and regional business advisors into</p><p>the university to speak to students, advise, attend, and</p><p>educate others at events and seminars, to provide projects,</p><p>and case study material, explains Reid.</p><p>Increasing awareness</p><p>One of the perennial problems for science departments, and</p><p>in particular for subjects like materials science that are not</p><p>taught in schools, is student numbers. One issue that the UK</p><p>Centre for Materials Education2 has been forced to turn its</p><p>attention to is the question of attracting new students to the</p><p>subject. Oxford Materials is taking a proactive role in this</p><p>area. For some years the Department has organized open</p><p>days for schools, but recently took this one stage further with</p><p>the recruitment of an ex-school teacher to advise on student</p><p>recruitment. Funded in part by the University and in part by</p><p>the Department itself, the initiative is hoped to lead to</p><p>increased adoption of the subject in future. </p><p>Looking forward, Smith can only hope that the future lives</p><p>up to 2001, which was, he says an absolutely unprecedented</p><p>year. What is certain is that Oxford Materials has</p><p>established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the</p><p>materials arena, both in academic and industrial sectors.MT</p><p>March 2002 45</p><p>Fig. 2 Aerial shot of the Begbroke Business and Science Park, with inset picture showing the new facilities for Oxford Materials.</p><p>FURTHER READING</p><p>1. Materials Today, 44 (6) p.56</p><p>2. Materials Today, 44 (6), p.42-45</p></li></ul>