New hi-tech engineering centre for Leicester University

Leicester University has announced the launch of a £1m hi-tech engineering centre that will help industry develop new materials and processes.

Vice-chancellor professor Sir Robert Burgess will open The Engineering Materials Integration Centre (MaTIC ) today in Leicester University’s Stirling/Gowan Engineering Building. The event will be attended by academic and industry representatives.

The aim of MaTIC is to provide expertise and know-how of advanced technology that can be used to solve complex engineering and scientific problems.

Funding for the facility was provided by the Higher Education Funding Council’s Capital Infrastructure Fund and Leicester University.

Prof Sarah Hainsworth, head of the new centre, said MaTIC will be ‘bristling’ with technologies that help industry work with academics to tackle the materials challenges of the future.

‘The purpose of the centre is underpinned by industry’s critical need to develop new materials and processes,’ she said. ‘The materials being developed are of the next generation and will help to make aero and automotive engines that are more efficient. These new materials contribute to decreasing carbon-dioxide emissions and improving the environmental impact of transport – this will help society meet targets for minimising climate change.

‘The new centre will also engage in forensic work that has an impact on the way in which violent crime is understood and interpreted.’

Hainsworth explained that materials played an important role in, for example, driving new innovations in approaches to reducing environmental emissions and improving energy efficiency.

She added: ‘To better understand new materials, new analytical and experimental techniques are required in order to drive knowledge acquisition.

‘However, it is the integration of our analytical and experimental techniques that is key and that allows us to have better insight into materials processing or materials implementation – be that by casting or chemical reactions.’

Hainsworth said the integration is important not only for new materials but also in areas such as geology, where the techniques allow microfossils to be examined in new ways that give surprising information about their 3D structure. 

The centre includes a range of advanced equipment for the understanding of materials behaviour.

Some of the equipment will include a Raman spectroscope for understanding the chemical bonding within materials. 

This will be used for assessing advanced coatings that reduce friction and hence help improve efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions in automotive applications, and for forensic investigations related to archaeology, museum artefacts and other trace deposits such as paints. 

The Raman spectroscope can also be used for characterising in-situ chemical reactions and understanding the way in which new lubricants interact with engineering surfaces.

A micro-computed X-ray tomograph will be used for tracking solidification reactions in alloys used for aerospace applications and for studying micro-fossils. Uniquely, the micro-computed tomograph is co-located with differential scanning calorimetry and single-pan calorimeters to allow a range of novel in-situ experiments that track solidification of metals to be performed.

This tracking allows understanding of how metal microstructures can be manipulated to create high-strength materials with good creep resistance – important for allowing aerospace manufacturers to develop engines that are more energy efficient.

The centre also has equipment for quantifying the sharpness of knives and other weapons used for inflicting injury.

Prof John Fothergill, head of the Department of Engineering, said the development of new materials has been vital to the development of mankind: ‘Indeed, the naming of the “ages” of mankind after materials – the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age – demonstrates the importance that mankind places in materials.’