Interfaces Newsletter October 2018

In Celebration of Professor MacNeil

Professor Sheila MacNeil

Professor Sheila MacNeil – Professor of Tissue Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at The University of Sheffield, officially retired on the 28th September. This is just another significant milestone of an illustrious career.

Sheila has come a long way from her time studying as an undergraduate of physiology at the University of Aberdeen, followed by a PhD in Endocrinology at University of Sheffield.

She joined the Medical School at Sheffield University in 1976 as an academic member of staff – starting as a postdoctoral fellow, then winning a Wellcome Trust Lectureship, thereafter becoming a Senior Lecturer and Reader.  In 2000, she joined the Engineering Materials department as its inaugural Professor of Tissue Engineering.

Sheila’s research has focused predominantly on biomaterials and tissue engineering with a strong emphasis on translating research to the clinic for patient benefit.  Her early work however reported on the biochemical basis for manic depression and the value of the rare metal lithium as a form of treatment.

The work for which she is now known internationally started around 1992, and was in the development of tissue engineered skin used to treat patients with extensive burns.  This work has evolved and taken an innovative approach through the design and manufacture of materials, cell therapies and biologics, and applying these to trauma and pathologies of the skin, and more recently oral mucosa, urethra, oesophagus and cornea.

A hallmark has been the translatable nature of her research, which saw her co-found a spinout company CellTran, where she and colleagues developed MySkin(TM) – living bandages made from a patients own healthy skin cells.  This was a first for the UK – and is now used to treat burns in 11 out of the 13 UK major burns units.

Cryoskin(TM) an autologous and allogeneic cell therapy for wound healing was another of Sheila’s developments, and voted Biomedical Product of the Year in 2008.

In 2005, Sheila was appointed Deputy Director of the University of Sheffield Kroto Research Institute, and in 2011 she led with colleagues the establishment of the University’s Bachelors and Masters degrees in Bioengineering.

In recognition of her outstanding research, Sheila was recipient of the 2014 UK Society of Biomaterials President’s Medal for contribution to Biomaterials.  In 2017 she was awarded the Medical Research Council Suffrage Science Award.

In 2018 Sheila was awarded the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining Chapman Medal, presented for “distinguished research in the field of biomedical materials, particularly with respect to biomaterials innovation.”

Over her career Sheila has pioneered the discipline of biomaterials and tissue engineering at the highest level, in the UK and internationally – and left her mark on many people!  She has published nearly 500 papers, but also supervised and trained numerous PhD students, MD clinical students and postdoctoral researchers in her group.  Many have progressed to successful careers in academia, senior industry positions, government organisations and consultant clinical positions across the world.

But the story, thankfully, doesn’t end there – Sheila is staying on as Emeritus Professor at the University, so her work will continue, perhaps with a slightly greater proportion of family time…

New Arrivals

As a department, we pride ourselves on our inclusivity and diversity, and every year we welcome new students from all over the world. The image above shows where this year’s new arrivals have come from. You can find out more about our internationals staff and students here: #WeAreInternational

Internship in Japan

When Masters student, Hadiza Mohammed was offered the once in a lifetime opportunity to be an intern nuclear engineer with Hitachi GE in Japan, she jumped at it. Read about some of her experiences here.

James Williams – Manufacturing Engineering Purchase Team Lead, Rolls-Royce plc

“I joined Rolls-Royce on the Manufacturing Engineering graduate scheme which lasted for about 18 months. During this time, I rotated around the company in a number of positions to build up an appreciation of the extent of the company’s manufacturing activities and procedures. I then moved into a role as a Manufacturing Engineering Purchase (MEP) in the business sector which manufactures shafts and discs for the gas turbines. I worked in this role for just under two years until I moved into my current role as an MEP Team Lead where I’ve now been for six months.”

“There isn’t really a standard day in my job and every day is a school day – there’s always an opportunity to learn something new. I may travel to a supplier’s factory to help solve their manufacturing problems (the furthest I’ve gone so far is to Russia), go to a sourcing conference to negotiate contracts with suppliers, work with our design engineers to make sure our component designs are as cheap to manufacture as possible, guiding suppliers through our complex specifications and requirements, or working with my team to develop and implement new and improved manufacturing technologies.”

“Being the single point of technical contact for 6 suppliers to Rolls-Royce means that I get involved in an extremely diverse set of engineering projects and challenges. Anything and everything related to running a factory or manufacturing a gas turbine component can come my way. I probably spend about 85% of my time working on this part of the job.”

“The remaining 15% of my time is spent supporting the team members to develop in line with their career goals and helping them to do their jobs to the best of their ability. This can range from providing constructive feedback and coaching the team in technical, procedural and behavioural matters, to providing a strategy and objectives for the team to work to.”

“The most rewarding aspect of my role is seeing the measurable improvements me and my team make to ourselves but also to our customers. Every time we successfully manufacture a difficult part for the first time, save the company loads of money, or become more capable engineers by learning something new, I get a buzz.”

“The most rewarding experience I’ve had so far was leading a high-profile project to double the manufacturing capacity of a turbine blade factory in Rolls-Royce. The success or failure of this project was going to save or lose the company literally tens of millions of pounds and it was amazing to be able to have so much influence so early in my career. Thankfully, the project was a success.”

Read more about James’s work at Rolls-Royce and how his time at Sheffield has helped to shape his careers so far.

The Electric Field

Festival of the Mind is a unique collaboration between our academic colleagues and experts from Sheffield’s cultural and creative industries.

It is about welcoming the public and our students from all over the world – as we celebrate our University and our city, with themes that are both local and global.

This year, Dr Julian Dean collaborated with HumanVR to produce a unique virtual reality experience which takes the viewer on a journey to explore one of the most important components in modern day electronics: the multi-layered ceramic capacitor.

A capacitor is a small electrical device which is used to control the flow of current in circuits. Every electrical system you have, from a mobile phone to a computer, will contain many hundreds of capacitors. In 2017, 1.3 trillion capacitors were manufactured; a modern mobile phone contains just over 1,000.

Multi-layer ceramic capacitors consist of many hundreds of layers of ceramic, stacked on top of each other, separated by metal electrodes. Each layer is thinner than a human hair.

Engineers need to ensure that each layer has the correct composition, thickness and fabricated free from large pores and holes that could compromise their function.

The ceramic microstructure contains grains with a core-shell structure. In this structure, the inner ‘core’ has slightly different properties than the surrounding ‘shell’.
By combining the materials this way, the capacitor can operate over a wide range of temperatures and at higher electric fields.

Our capacitor is made of barium titanate which contains barium, titanium and oxygen atoms. When we look at some materials on the atomic scale, many are crystalline – atoms arranged in regular patterns like the points of a cube. The crystal structure of barium titanate is called a perovskite.

The atoms all have particular places within the structure to sit. When atoms are missing or a different atom has replaced one, we call it a defect. We can actually control and use these defects, through manufacturing, to influence the properties of our materials.

The experience has been inspired by research conducted by the Functional Materials & Devices group based in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. They use cutting edge computer simulations and experimental measurements to understand what defects are needed to produce material properties required for new technology.

In capacitors the atoms move when they “feel” an electric field and this allows them to control the electric current in a circuit. When the field becomes too great the material can break down and the current is uncontrolled. By introducing defects we can stabilise the atoms allowing them to survive larger electric fields and higher temperatures.

The VR experience is currently available at the University, but you can get an idea of what you can see by watching the show reel.

What’s the matter?

So, you think you know your materials? Can you identify the picture above? As it’s the first edition of the newsletter, we’ve given you what we think is a simple starter. Post your comments below, or Tweet us @msesheffield with the hashtag #WhatsTheMatter.

Let us know what you think

We’d love to hear your views about Interfaces. If there’s more you’d like to hear about, leave us a comment below or email us at

Don’t forget, if you haven’t yet subscribed to Interfaces, you can do so here.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.