Interfaces Newsletter April 2020

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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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Undergraduates help to develop new alloy

Undergraduates from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering have contributed to the development of a new High Entropy Alloy, demonstrating that in our discipline, advances can be made at any stage in your career.

The students, all of whom graduated in 2017, were part of the MEng Materials Science and Engineering (Research) programme in the Department, and they worked on the research project as part of an assessed unit during their course.

Under the watchful eye of Professor Russell Goodall, the students developed a brand new alloy composition, in work that has shown how Chvorinov’s rule may be used to investigate the potential for a selected combination of elements to form a useful alloy.

High Entropy Alloys are multicomponent alloys where (typically five or more) elements are combined in equal, or roughly equal, quantities. Successful combination of the elements leads to the formation of just a few (or even a single) simple structured phases, and the alloys possess unusual yet useful properties. Semi-empirical methods are used to predict the phases present, but variability may arise during alloy synthesis.

However, greater predictability is achieved using knowledge of the effective solidification temperature, which can be hard to predict for alloys which have never been made before. In this work, the researchers used Chvorinov’s rule for solidification time to predict the solidification temperature and hence help to design the new alloy system.

In this instance, researchers were combining titanium, vanadium, chromium, zirconium and silicon to produce a multiphase alloy. This combination was based on an existing HEA (TiVCrZrNb), and substituting niobium with silicon because the former was most expensive and most dense, and silicon is known to form silicide intermetallics which are temperature‐stable, has a relatively low density and cost, and can improve oxidation resistance in a variety of alloys by forming a protective oxide layer of SiO2.

Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) maps for TiVCrZr-Six alloys showing the distribution of each element (the top row shows maps for x = 0, the middle row shows maps for x = 0.5, and the bottom row shows maps for x = 1.0).

The outcome of the work was that an alloy was produced that, while not strictly an HEA, has the potential to be tailored to be suitable for a range of different applications, especially those with mechanical requirements. However, the purpose of the work was to demonstrate that Chvorinov’s rule can be used as a means of predicting the microstructure of the resultant alloys, as this could be applied to the design of many novel alloys.

Professor Goodall sums this work up: ‘This research project has made a valuable contribution to understanding the methods used in the development of new alloys. Moreover, it has shown that undergraduates are able to participate and contribute to genuine cutting edge research activities.

‘Many of the students who co-authored the paper, published in Metals, have gone on to PhD studentships either at the University of Sheffield or elsewhere, and all have a publication to their names before they have launched their research career.’

The authors of the paper who undertook the work as part of their undergraduate degree were Maximillian Bloomfield, Bethany Jim, George Kerridge, Jem Pitcairn, Michael Schobitz, Lorna Sinclair, Silvija Zilinskaite. They were supported in their work by Professor Goodall, Dr Zhaoyuan Leong and PhD student Yuhe Huang. The full article can be found here:

Choctastic! Experimenting on materials when in lockdown

We find ourselves living through unusual times with enforced working from home for most, schools and universities operating online and disruption to day-to-day life. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a bit of fun!

As part of our student recruitment campaign this year, we had planned to send our UK offer holders a couple of well-known chocolate bars, along with a set of experimental instructions, allowing them to investigate the mechanical properties of the bars.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t send out the actual chocolate bars, but we went fully digital instead – email, social, web and video. We still sent them the instructions and asked them to source their own test pieces.

We suggested that they could bend them or twist them, and do the same when the bars had been chilled in the freezer. We told them what to look for when they broke their bars, and asked them to share their results via social media.

If you want to learn more about out chocolate bar testing, search Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for #TestATunnocks, or visit the webpage:

New Future Leaders Fellowships for MSE

Two academics from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering have been recognised for their outstanding research that is at the forefront of research and innovation in the UK, and have been awarded Future Leaders Fellowships by UKRI.

Dr Dikai Guan and Dr Dan Cogswell will receive a portion of the £900m fund set up by UKRI to help to establish the careers of world-class research and innovation leaders across UK business and academia.

Dr Dikai Guan

Dikai’s research will look at the ‘Development of strong, formable, stainless and low-cost magnesium alloys for next generation cars’, and will contribute to the UK’s ‘Future of Mobility’ Grand Challenge by working towards the design and manufacture of ultra-low/zero emission vehicles. It is suggested that a 10% reduction in vehicle weight can lead to around an 8% improvement in fuel economy.

While the use of magnesium would offer significant weight savings, there are long-standing issues around high production costs, low formability and high corrosion rates associated with magnesium alloys, when compared to traditional automotive materials. His fellowship aims to develop light, low-cost magnesium alloys with high strength, good formability and high corrosion resistance to replace heavier aluminium and steel components.

Dikai’s fellowship receives over £1m funding over 4 years, and will allow him to build a research team and establish experimental facilities. It will involve collaboration with industrial partners TWI Ltd and Luxfer MEL Technologies, as well as academic partners from King’s College London, Imperial College London and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.

Dr Dan Cogswell

Meanwhile, Dan Cogswell’s research is on ‘Risk Assuring Future Structure Critical Systems: Combining 21st Century Science with Engineering Intuition’. In this work, Dan will lead a programme to develop a 21st century manufacturing and property assessment process, implementing risk and assurance methods by combining cutting edge materials science, mechanical engineering and data analytics.

This will involve developing robust structural integrity methodologies based on physical understanding and statistical confidence to guide engineers on just how much and what type of effort needs to be placed in risk assuring the performance of a component. This will lead to engineers taking advantage of the full potential of a material, particularly when used in high-value products used in the automotive, aerospace, healthcare and energy sectors.

Dan’s fellowship receives £2.5m of funding over 4 years, and will involve the University of Manchester, Imperial College London and the Advanced Forming Research Centre as academic partners, and Rolls-Royce and Sheffield Forgemasters as industrial partners. 

On his fellowship, Dikai comments: “Receiving the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships is a breakthrough to my academic career, enabling me to become a Principal Investigator for the first time and conduct independent research.

“In the long term, my ambition is to create and expand a world leading team known for its expertise in developing materials science, engineering based alloy selection techniques, manufacturing and thermomechanical processing.

“Thus, this fellowship will be not only the beginning of my independent research focusing on light Mg alloy systems, but will also be a very important foundation to enable me to lead future light weighting research areas distributed in automotive, aerospace, medical and defence sectors and act as an ambassador for UK science and innovation.”

Dan adds: ‘The Future Leaders Fellowship award is an incredible opportunity to make a lasting and transformative contribution to the development of engineering capability for the UK. This Fellowship enables me to take a substantial step forward in my career moving from focussing on a single sector within a company environment to a multi-sector role fostering links between industry, academia and policy makers. 

“A real key to this will be developing people, not just technology, to make lasting impact and take advantage of the materials science ability of the UK in safely solving the engineering challenges of the future.”

Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation, said: “The Future Leaders Fellowships are UKRI’s flagship talent programme, designed to foster and nurture the research and innovation leaders of the future. 

“We are delighted to support these outstanding researchers and innovators across universities, research organisations and businesses.”

Kirsty Grainger, Director of the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships, said: “That businesses are hosting Future Leaders Fellows demonstrates the fellowships’ potential to create innovative solutions that can deliver transformational change for industry and wider society.

“The Future Leaders Fellows represent some of the most brilliant people working in the country. We’re supporting researchers from every background – from the arts to medicine, and the social sciences to engineering – helping them become the research and innovation leaders of the future.” 

The Future Leaders Fellowship scheme has already been through two rounds of awards, with 119 fellowships having been awarded, with one being awarded to Dr Daniel Humphreys ( from the Department of Biomedical Sciences in Round 2. To have been awarded four fellowships in Round 3 – two in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and two in the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences – is an excellent achievement for the University.

University of Sheffield engineers make virtual science experiment website free for schools to use

FlashyScience, a website created by engineers at the University of Sheffield, has been made available to schools as a free resource for GCSE and A-Level Physics students, allowing them to do virtual experiments and continue their learning.

Each experiment includes not only the relevant physics but also phenomena seen in real experiments, such as measurement uncertainty. This means students not only have to take and record data, but make judgements, analyse and interpret data, just like with a real experiment. 

This means the students still gain the learning outcomes and practice they need. Each experiment comes with quick guides and full instructions, science background, supporting materials and video guides.

Dr Julian Dean, co-founder of the website from the University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said: “We are continuing to develop new virtual experiments to match the required practicals, working hard to add more in the coming weeks, including a few chemistry based ones too.”

The resource is available through simple web browsers on computers and can be accessed from home or in school for those pupils who are children of key workers.

Professor Dan Allwood, co-founder also from the University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, added: “In this unprecedented time with schools closing, we made the decision to make this resource free for all UK schools until August. We hope it can help students to continue their practical work ahead of starting their A-Levels or going on to University.”

A secondary school UK Physics teacher said of the website: “The software is user friendly, intuitive and it looks good on the screen, with graphics that resemble real laboratory equipment. The inclusion of full instructions, worksheets and Excel spreadsheets is also invaluable.”

Further, a Physics Tutor from the University of Sheffield International College added, “We are using FlashyScience Virtual experiments as we cannot go into the lab, It is real Godsend”.

It is available to the whole of the UK with schools in Sheffield, Hertfordshire, Islington and Loughborough already using the website as a free resource for their pupils.

For any schools/teachers wanting to access all of the resources on the website, please email or visit to contact the team to request a free license.

Keeping it green

Green Impact is an initiative established by the National Union of Students which aims to help organisations establish environmentally and socially sustainable practices to improve their work environment. The University of Sheffield has participated in the scheme since 2009, and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering has been involved since 2014. Here’s a bit more about what we have done this year.

The University has committed to a 43% carbon emission reduction by 2020 which we are on track to achieve. Over the 10 years of Green Impact projects at Sheffield, we have saved 3 million kg of CO2 through these sustainability projects.

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering is dedicated to supporting the Green Impact scheme by making simple, tangible and powerful changes in the key areas of Waste and Recycling, Energy Usage, Travel, Procurement and Community.

Our Green Impact team is made up of students, academic staff, support staff and technicians. Awarded both the Bronze and Innovation award at the 2014/2015 Sustainability Showcase, in 2015/2016 we achieved Gold and we are working to continue with this success for 2019/20.

This year we decided to make use of the Hadfield Building roof garden to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers. There are many benefits that this can bring: participants can learn about growing food; growing your own food can help healthier eating; gardening has been shown to reduce stress; create a sense of community by participants, by interacting outside the usual work structures. Participants will be able to swap recipes particularly when they have a surplus of a specific fruit or veg!

A launch event was held in February to raise awareness and for attendees to sow some seeds to be planted out at the appropriate time later in the year. With the current Covid-19 situation we are not able to make use of the roof garden at the moment but hopefully everyone is having success raising their plants at home.

On World Book Day we held a book swap event where unwanted books could be exchanged. Books are reused rather than students having to buy from new, saving money and reducing the amount of new books bought. Books were both fiction and course related non-fiction. A selection of the fiction titles that were not taken are being kept so that students can pick one up and use the seating areas in the Turner Museum as a relaxation space, to take a break from their studies.

We also improved the range of recycling facilities available in the Department. Many items that are able to be recycled can not currently be recycled via the standard University mixed recycling bins. We asked students and staff whether there were particular items that they would like to be recycled in the Department and as a result there are now recycling points specifically for crisp packets and coffee pods. As of 4th March 2020, we had collected and recycled 13.8kg of Tassimo capsules and packaging since the Christmas break!

The Department also has donation boxes for food and unwanted clothes that are given to local organisations for distribution to those in need in the community. There is also an area where unwanted stationery can be left for anyone to reuse.

And back in November, members of the Department’s Green Impact team took part in a University wide litter-pick, which saw 60 people from all across the University spend their lunch hour tidying up the campus. Many bags of litter were collected and disposed of in an appropriate manner.

Research in brief

We’ve been talking to a number of our academic and research staff about their research interests, and asking them to summarise it in just a couple of minutes. Over the coming issues, we’ll share these videos with you.

Our third research video features Dr Alice Pyne, an expert in Atomic Force Microscopy, explaining the technique and how it is used in Materials Science and Engineering.

Look out for further research insights in the future.

Let us know what you think

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