Interfaces Newsletter December 2019

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Welcome to Interfaces, the newsletter from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield. Every month, we’ll bring you news from the world of Materials, from us and elsewhere, and how discoveries made through the years affect our lives today.

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Staff Profile: Professor Ipsita Roy

Professor Ipsita Roy

Professor Ipsita Roy, a multidisciplinary scientist, recently joined the University of Sheffield as Professor of Biomaterials in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, having previously been a Professor in the School of Live Sciences at the University of Westminster.

With degrees in Chemistry and Biotechnology and a PhD in Biochemistry, Professor Roy’s first academic position was at the Bioprocess Technology Institute, University of Minnesota where she studied molecular entomology.

From here she moved to the Indian Institute of Technology where she developed her interest in biomaterials, working on Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). These are natural polymers that are produced by bacterial fermentation. Professor Roy initially studied these materials at the molecular level, but then extended her work to look at how they could be used in medical application.

PHAs have advantages over other natural polymers that they are a lot more stable, and they are very biocompatible, making them highly suited to use in the human body. As a result, Professor Roy’s research group is researching how these materials can be applied to the areas of hard tissue engineering, soft tissue engineering, wound healing, drug delivery and medical device development.

Furthermore, PHAs are highly biodegradable, making them both more sustainable and environmentally friendly that polymers currently used in medical applications. These materials are CE marked in Europe and approved by the FDA (Food and Drink Administration) in the USA.

Professor Roy’s interests extend to other natural polymers, including bacterial cellulose, γ-polyglutamate and antimicrobial polymers, and how these can be produced, purified and utilised in medical applications.

She is a strong advocate for research collaboration and leads, or is a key part of, numerous high-value research programmes, including:

  • SCARAB – Sheffield Centre for Antimicrobial Resistance and Biofilms, investigating materials that resist the development of biofilms, which can lead to implants becoming infected and immuno-compromise.
  • NBIC – National Biofilms Innovation Centre (led by Southampton University), a research network of industry and academic studying biofilms
  • ECoat – the development of ecofriendly biobased coatings, including PHAs, made from molecules such as proteins, cutin, polysaccharides, polyphenols, carotenoids, fatty acids from readily available, low valorised biomass sources. 
  • REBIOSTENT – Reinforced Bioresorbable Biomaterials for Therapeutic Drug Eluting Stents, researching the production of biodegradable and biocompatible resorbable stents using highly innovative, novel, and multifunctional materials.
  • British Heart Foundation Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine Centre (Led by Imperial College London), investigating the development of cardiac patches for people with myocardial infarction.
  • British Heart Foundation funded research into Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering, working alongside Professor Sian Harding of Imperial College London
  • PolyBioSkin which to broaden the use of biopolymers in biomedical, cosmetic, and sanitary skin-contact applications.

Looking forward to potential collaborations within the University of Sheffield, Professor Roy is already exploring opportunities to work with colleagues in Chemistry, Chemical & Biological Engineering, Medicine and Dentistry, and within Materials Science and Engineering. Possible areas of research include neuroscience, cell cultures, in-vivo nerve tissue engineering and alternative methods for producing PHAs.

We look forward to seeing how all these research programmes progress.

A Year in Industry

Our undergraduate students have the opportunity to undertake a year in industry between their third and fourth years, to gain experience of life after graduation, and a chance to put what they’ve learned on their course into practice.

One of our students, Mark Anis, who comes from Egypt, tells us of some of his experiences.

“As part of my year in industry, I chose to work for Baker Hughes as a Materials Engineering intern in the Technology department.

“Baker Hughes is a massive energy technology company, operating in over 120 countries. Our site is basically a factory and offices for the Oilfield Equipment business sector of Baker Hughes. We are concerned with Flexible Pipe Systems.

“Previously, we were Baker Hughes, a GE Company – but GE just recently let go of majority shares as they are trying to scale down their Oil and Gas division, so we are now a changed entity. It was quite interesting to see a full rebranding happening in one day, all over the world!

“We are now Baker Hughes, sporting an energy green mobius for our logo – instead of the previous Baker Hughes, a GE Company with the signature GE blue. But I digress!

“There is a lot that goes on in oilfields. After almost 4 months I’ve come to only learn a fraction of what happens so far (and that’s just concerning our pipes!) First thing to explain is that offshore Oil and Gas production is completely different from onshore.

“Subsea engineering presents new challenges and really gets your head overwhelmed with all that may interfere with production. In short, flexible pipes are dynamic pipes that allow for more movement while maintaining structural integrity. Some of our pipes go kilometers deep underwater, and the immense pressure buildup means the pipe needs a lot of strength to withstand that.

“So it is really fun to tackle some of the associated materials challenges including chemical compatibility, maintaining adequate strength and controlled degradation! “

We hope to hear more from Mark later in his placement and find out what he’s gained from working in industry.

Spiders inspiring natural alternatives to plastic

Spiders are given a given a rough ride. They are thought of as creepy, solitary and scary.

But would you feel differently about them if we told you that spiders could inspire an environmental revolution?

Well, spider silk is basically a natural polymer or plastic-like material, and spiders can spin up to seven different types of silk, each serving different purposes, including stiff fibres used as the structural elements of their webs and sticky fibres to catch their food.

In the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Dr Chris Holland and his team are investigating how spiders produce their silk, and working out if there is a way to adapt this process to develop natural alternatives to plastic.

The FLIPT project has taken this understanding and applied it to the processing of wood pulp to see if fully biodegradable plastic materials can be produced from sustainable resources. Chris explains how the process works here.

FLIPT is a Horizon 2020 project studying FLow Induced Phase Transitions and is a collaboration between the University of Sheffield, the University of Oxford, VTT Research, Aarhus University, Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung Dresden, Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biológica António Xavier NOVA, Oxford Biomaterials Ltd and Spinnova.

The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 713475.

Student voice – why materials?

Our ROSE (Recruitment, Outreach and Student Experience) Co-ordinator, Amanda Southworth, has been chatting to some of our first years about why they chose Materials and why they chose Sheffield. With this information we can help to engage with more prospective students in the future and make sure that Sheffield continues to be a fantastic place to study.

First up: ‘How did you first hear about Materials Science and Engineering?

“I’m not sure when I really heard about it. I’ve always been interested in physics and chemistry so when I went to look at courses it stood out for me because I didn’t want to do chemical engineering, so I chose Materials Science.”

I looked at Physics and Engineering but was doing Maths, Physics and Chemistry at A-level and didn’t want to give any of them up and Materials seemed to cover all of them.

“I did a foundation year first which was the Physical Pathway and I looked into Aerospace or Materials. I liked the Nuclear Aspect – wanting to take knowledge back to home country and use it there.”

“I found out about Materials Science when I came for an open day here for electrical engineering, so I just decided to go and look into it because it sounded interesting, and I really liked it.”

“I’ve always known what kind of career I wanted to go into: I wanted to design sportswear and hi-tech materials and both of the degrees I was thinking of, product design and materials, would allow me to do that. I felt that Sheffield would be able to give me more opportunities.”

Author Showcase: Professor Tony West

Recently featured at the University of Sheffield Author Showcase, Professor Tony West’s book Solid State Chemistry and its Applications is the first broad account offering a non-mathematical, unified treatment of solid state chemistry. It is the classic textbook for undergraduate teaching in solid state chemistry worldwide.

Solid state chemistry lies at the heart of many significant scientific advances from recent decades, including the discovery of high-temperature superconductors, new forms of carbon and countless other developments in the synthesis, characterisation and applications of inorganic materials.

Looking in to the future, solid state chemistry will be crucial for the development of new functional materials in areas such as energy, catalysis and electronic materials.

The Sheffield Authors Showcase honours the achievements of our academic community, both by celebrating their contribution to academic endeavour and by recognising the effect that their scholarly works have had on their readers.

Materials in the air

Cheap air travel has been brought about by many developments in Materials Science and Engineering. This is mainly because gas turbine engines have been made more efficient through decades of materials development covering alloys, thermal barrier coatings, active cooling systems and manufacturing technology.

In the last of his podcasts, James Nohl spoke to Dr Jo Sharp from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield about some of the developments that have contributed to more efficient air travel.

Let’s hear more from James and Jo. (

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