Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Functional Materials for a Sustainable Future

Last month, on the 15th of May, the University of Sheffield Functional Materials and Devices group hosted a workshop centred on the topic of "Functional Materials for a Sustainable Future". A diverse number of speakers from out own group, and collaborators, and industrial partners, gave insightful and exciting talks on how a range of materials can be designed and fabricated, for use in a wide range of applications.

Presentations ranged from magnetic materials for cooling, solar power materials, and the use of computational simulations to model novel materials. The workshop was also an opportunity for the FMD group to demonstrate the value of KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnerships) whereby researchers can pursue underpinning research to enable novel materials discovery and applications.

Guests included representatives from QinetiQ, Johnson Matthey, CeramTec, Rolls-Royce, and more (a full list can be found on the event page).

Functional materials in Japan

The assembled attendees
Between the 29th and 31st of May, the 8th International Conference on Electroceramics (ICE) was held at Nagoya University in Japan.

Topics covered at the conference encompassed most of the oxide functionalities, including piezoelectrics, thermoelectrics and ferroelectrics. Plenary lectures included Prof John Kilner (Imperial), Prof Harry Tuller (MIT), and Dr Nava Setter (EPFL).

Attendees included academics, students and industry representatives, which enabled some interesting discussions about the future directions of functional materials.  

Becky receiving her prize
Becky attended as a speaker, talking about her work on control of morphology in barium titanate, for which she won a Young Presentation Prize.

There was also a moving memorial symposium for the late Prof Eric Cross (PSU) a pioneer in the ferroelectrics field, who passed away at the end of 2016, with contributions from former students and colleagues.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Invited lecture at Manchester University on perovskite solar cells

On May 3rd 2017, Dr Giorgio Schileo was invited to give a lecture on the state-of-the-art and industrial applications of perovskite solar cells to Renewable Energy MSc students at the University of Manchester.

The talk covered the physical chemistry aspects of perovskite solar cells, including insights on the challenges that a new technology must face to make the transition from academic novelty to useful product that generates a profit. Perovskite solar cells are a good example of this process, as they generated an enormous amount of interest in the academic community and attracted considerable investments worldwide, even though critical issues (stability, toxicity of Pb, etc.) still have to be addressed.

Dr Schileo also presented the KTP scheme to the students as a possible route to secure a job in the industry while gaining some additional skills, and also different aspects such as market shares, overall cost considerations, and scale-up issues.

Monday, 10 April 2017

1st Annual ICON Conference, Athens

On April 7th 2017, Becky was an invited speaker at the International Consortium of Nanotechnology's (ICON) 1st Annual Conference. This Consortium provides funding for a global network of PhD students working in a wide variety of nanotechnology fields such as graphene and perovskite solar cells. ICON is an initiative funded by the Lloyd's Register Foundation (LRF), who also supports Becky's fellowship. The LRF are a charity committed to improving the safety standards in engineering across the globe, and to promote scientific education, with ICON being one of their flagship schemes.    

The conference was a mix of fascinating talks about ICON, the LRF, and presentations from the PhD students themselves each of whom had three minutes to explain their work. Each speaker rose to the challenge and it was a great introduction to their work and to the later poster session. 

Becky's talk was about where a career in nanoscience could lead, by drawing on her experiences as both a PhD and PDRA. Following on from the experiences of an LRF-funded PhD student coming to the end of her work, Becky gave a brief introduction to her work and a few hints for the assembled PhD students on getting the most out of their PhDs.

The conference was held in central Athens, Greece, and provided the delegates with the opportunity to explore the wonderful historical sites in the city, including the fantastic conference dinner which was held at the Acropolis Museum, with views of Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon

Friday, 7 April 2017

From Bits to Batteries - Cafe Scientifique Post-Mortem

On Monday, April 3rd, FMD group member, Dr Chris Handley, gave his talk, "From Bits to Batteries", to a public audience thanks to the local Café Scientifique organisation. Café Scientifique is place for academics and researchers to present their work to a public audience, consisting largely of non-experts. Outreach opportunities such as these are an ideal way to demonstrate the value of academic research, and the value of investment into research.

Douglas Bell, who helps organise the Sheffield Café Scientifique events was able to attend,

"Christopher explained the chemistry and the computation approaches clearly. He displayed both in-depth knowledge and enormous enthusiasm for the topics. Visuals were rich in useful diagrams and animations. He handled questions sensitively and helpfully.

The talk was pitched just right for an audience with limited science background. It was well received and fitted well within the programme of Café Scientifique."

Chris' talk demonstrated the importance of computational simulations as a underpinning research tool for materials design and discovery, and generated some excellent discussion, with audience members eager to further understand the future implications of machine learning in the field, and further examples of how simulation and experiment works in tandem within the FMD group.

In the future we hope to present more of our work at these public gatherings, and perhaps have PhD students give shorter presentations as a group.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

From Bits to Batteries - Cafe Scientifique preview

On April 3rd 2017, the Sheffield branch of Cafe Scientifique will be be hosting FMD member, Dr Chris Handley, as he presents his talk, "From Bits to Batteries".

Cafe Scientifique is place for academics and researchers to present their work to a public audience, consisting largely of non-experts. Outreach opportunities such as these are an ideal way to demonstrate the value of academic research, and the value of investment into research.

For the FMD group, and Chris in particular, this is a chance to show the public how we are searching for novel functional materials, and what uses we are designing these materials for. Furthermore, it is a chance for Chris to show the importance of underpinning fundamental research in understanding how the chemistry of these materials, through the use of simulations, influences the properties of these materials, and so allow us to design and discover, novel materials.

In his talk, Chris will use a couple of case studies from his own research to demonstrate who we design models to simulate chemistry and thus materials, and his vision for future methods for simulating materials.

Chris' talk will take place at 7pm, the 3rd of April, 2017, at the Showroom Cafe Bar in Sheffield.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Functional materials in Parliament

On March the 15th 2017 Becky attended Voice of the Future 2017 at Portcullis House in Westminster. The event saw participants from a range of organisations invited to submit questions to a range of science Ministers and Government advisers about the future of science policy in the UK, and to hear their answers and thoughts on this important topic. Becky was there on behalf of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and had submitted questions ahead of time to be asked on the day.

First under the spotlight was the Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy Secretary Chi Onwurah. Of the questions asked, her stance on the lack of taboo which makes it acceptable to be bad at maths was particularly interesting, although the question of how to solve this issue, particularly amongst school-age girls, was left open.

Next was Sir Mark Walport, chief scientific adviser to the Government, closely followed by Jo Johnson, Minister who gave the party line on the likely effects of the UK’s exit from the EU. He gave a very interesting account of the party line, with an overall positive outlook, even with the uncertain times faced by scientists and the UK in general.

Finally, questions were put to four members of the Science and Technology Select Committee. This was particularly interesting as these are the MPs who write reports to directly advise the Government in their decision-making.

Overall, the day was a fascinating insight into the inner workings of science policy in the UK, and a great opportunity to visit the House of Commons, even if, having seen the questions ahead of time, the answers sometimes felt a little prepared. More information about the event can be found here and a recording of the afternoon can be found on the Commons website