Interfaces Newsletter June 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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Taking our artefacts project home

The end of the second semester in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering would usually see our Second Years undertaking the ever-popular Artefacts Project, where they reverse engineer a common household object. But this year we’ve had to take an alternative approach.

How materials science applies to Formula-E

For a number of years now, our second year students have been undertaking a research project which we call the Artefacts Project during the latter part of their second semester, where an artefact is an object made by a human being.

In this project, supported by the Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers alias Wire Workers of the City of London, the year is divided into groups and each given two versions of an everyday object to reverse engineer so that they can determine what materials have been used, how the product has been manufactured and why there are cost differences.

It is up to each team to decide what aspect of the product they choose to focus on, whether that’s the differences between the quality and performance of the materials, the life cycle assessment, efficiency savings that could be made or even just the brand and advertisement.

In previous years, students have investigated toasters, kettles and the difference between male and female razor blades! However, this year, because of the outbreak of Coronavirus, the brief for the project had to be changed quite a bit.

The year was broken up into groups spanning ten different time zones across the globe. Each team was asked to research their own choice of artefact agreed by all team members and approved by the academic lead. They considered their object from two perspectives. Firstly, how the development of the artefact had been shaped by the materials it used, and secondly, what limitations and challenges may exist for the future of the artefact due to the materials used.

Once the research was complete, each group was asked to produce a 4 page scientific report, and present their findings in 10 minutes using their choice of presentation medium.

As we expected, our students rose to the challenge and submitted some highly informative and on occasion, entertaining presentations, covering subjects as diverse as mobile phones and laptops to electric bikes and high performance sailing dinghies.

In terms of presenting their research, one group developed a complete website on solar cells while another created an interactive quiz based on the TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Development of solar cells
Materials used for e-bikes

We are also very grateful to the Worshipful company for their sponsorship of the competition again this year. As well as providing a prize of £1100 to the winning teams, members of the Worshipful Company play an active role in setting the brief for the project, assessing the entries and providing feedback.

Bev Page from the livery company said “The success of this year’s Artefact project clearly demonstrates what can be achieved by some lateral thinking when faced with severe adversity. The staff and students of the Department should all be congratulated on a job well done. Although not all can be winners, all the student groups involved should be very proud of their achievements as every single presentation was extremely well executed, particularly considering the problems of working across different time zones.

“The artefacts project has allowed us to learn to communicate in a whole new way. We have learnt how to research, collate, and present as one team whilst being on other sides of the country. We have also been able to see where materials science applies to industry and how important it is to technological advances- applying what we have learnt to real world advances. It proves that online learning doesn’t have to just be online lectures.”

Michka, one of the students from the group that won best presentation for their project on how materials have influenced formula E racing cars.

Dr Julian Dean, Lecturer in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and organiser of the Artefacts Project added, “It’s not quite the same as getting everyone into the lab using a variety of analysis techniques to investigate the materials used in everyday objects, but we’ve been really impressed by how our students have adapted and embraced this different, yet equally challenging project and worked together, albeit remotely, to deliver complete project reports.”

Women in Engineering

Tuesday 23 June was International Women in Engineering Day, and while we like to celebrate the achievements of all our staff and students, we used this occasion to ask female students and staff what they loved about Materials Science and Engineering. Here’s what we heard.

Public Lecture: How Magnets Work

Date: Tuesday 14 July
Time: 6pm
Venue: Online

As part of the Institute of Physics’s Magnetism 2020 Conference, Professor Dan Allwood will be giving a public lecture on How Magnets Work. This will be an accessible introduction to magnetic materials for non-experts, including school students.

We use magnets throughout every day. They make possible much of modern life, from our electricity supply and low carbon energy, to the internet, household devices, efficient and ‘smart’ cars, and industrial machines. Yet how magnets work is a mystery to most people.

This interactive talk will explain the inner workings of the magnets used in modern applications, and introduce some of the latest research ideas on magnetic materials that could have a profound effect on the way we live. The talk will include demonstrations and opportunities to engage with the UK’s leading researchers in magnetic materials.

Booking information
Participants attending the Magnetism conference do not need to book to attend this lecture. Visitors for the lecture should reserve their space online via the events calendar at

New FAST machine makes exciting addition to Henry Royce Institute capabilities

The Henry Royce Institute in Sheffield is pleased to announce that it has now taken delivery of a brand new large-scale Spark Plasma Sintering system – the Model HP D 250/C (FCT Systeme GmbH).

The SPS machine will be housed in the new Royce Discovery Centre and, once operational, it will be available to the UK manufacturing community as well as staff and students from across the country to use in the research and development of new materials solutions.

FCT Systeme FAST capability

The uptake of the rapid, solid-state consolidation process – field assisted sintering technology (FAST) or spark plasma sintering (SPS) – has increased significantly over the last five years for structural metals. The concept of using an electric current/field to assist in consolidation of ceramic powders has existed for over a century; today the modern FAST process is being exploited to manufacture traditionally difficult-to-process alloys into near-net shapes.

FAST has advantages over hot isostatic pressing as more rapid sintering can be achieved without the need for process-limiting steel canning and degassing steps. In addition, the process has benefits for material utilisation and reuse of waste material.

In Sheffield, FAST has been effectively combined with closed die forging to provide UK industry with a low-cost hybrid processing route – termed FAST-forge. Today, the Henry Royce Institute is working with partners such as the High Value Manufacturing Catapult Centre – Advanced Forming Research Centre, regional businesses, long-standing supply chain manufacturers and multi-nationals to translate the UK-developed technology into next generation components. In addition, FAST technology can be used to join dissimilar powder materials and provide functionally graded material solutions for designers.

The new large-scale FCT Systeme FAST machine housed in the Royce Discovery Centre from September 2020 will provide the UK manufacturing community with a novel and exciting platform to develop new materials solutions for the post-Covid future.

We welcome you to come and use the facility and allow the Royce team to demonstrate the capabilities of this new and exciting advanced metals processing technology.

Professor Martin Jackson
Core Area Champion for Advanced Metals Processing at the Henry Royce Institute

Our world leading research scoops RSC Award for Research Excellence

A collaborative project involving researchers from the Department has been awarded the Industry-Academia Collaboration Award by the Royal Society of Chemistry, it was announced last week.

The DISTINCTIVE Consortium was recognised for the delivery of research that addressed challenges associated with the continuing safe storage and disposal of radioactive legacy nuclear waste.

Led by Leeds University, the multi-disciplinary team included renowned experts in materials chemistry, radiochemistry, geochemistry, computational chemistry, chemical engineering and ceramic science from 11 leading universities (Birmingham, Bristol, Imperial College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Loughborough, Manchester, Sheffield, Strathclyde, Surrey and University College London) and three industry partners (National Nuclear Laboratory, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Sellafield Ltd).

The Sheffield researchers were Professor Neil Hyatt, Dr Claire Corkhill, Dr Shi Kuan Sun and Dr Steph Thornber, who is now working for the National Nuclear Laboratory and who’s research contribution featured in a UK Government Case Study.

With the UK Government’s committment to nuclear energy and its role in delivering secure and affordable energy in the future, public acceptance of this technology will be helped by demonstrating the ability to safely manage and dispose of wastes from legacy nuclear operations, and new nuclear build.

Innovative approaches are also needed to reduce the time and considerable cost to the taxpayer of decommissioning and clean-up activities.

The DISTINCTIVE Consortium contributed to these strategic goals in a positive way through the roll-out of innovative technical solutions and training of the next generation of scientists and engineers with the skills and expertise required to tackle nuclear waste management and decommissioning issues.

As a result of the success of DISTINCTIVE, a follow-on project (TRANSCEND – Transformative Science and Engineering for Nuclear Decommissioning) was awarded, once again calling on the expertise of scientists and engineers from the University of Sheffield.

Green Impact – we get Silver!

In our April edition we reported on the activities of the Department’s Green Impact Team in working towards environmentally and socially sustainable practices and involving colleagues and students alike in making the Department more sustainable.

We planted seeds, held a book swap, improved recycling options, picked up litter from around the campus and donated food and clothes to local organisations. We had planned to work on the Sir Robert Hadfield roof garden, but the national lockdown put an end to that project, for the time being, at least.

We’re really pleased to say that we have been awarded a Silver Green Impact Award for our efforts, and the core MSE Green Impact Team are to be congratulated for their efforts. These are Andy Keating, Claire Healey, Louise Kinna, Ella Snowball and Stephen Birch. Thank you also to everyone in the Department who took part in the activities and we look forward to carrying on the good work later in the year.

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