Imperial College London

Strongest materials on Earth to be developed at new centre for structural ceramics

Heat-resistant materials

Imperial College Structural Ceramic Centre strives for strong, durable and temperature resistant new materials - <em>News Release</em>

For immediate release
Friday 21 December 2007

Some of the strongest, most durable and heat resistant materials on earth are to be developed in the UK, thanks to a new £6 million centre for structural ceramics announced today.

The Imperial College Structural Ceramic Centre (ICSCC), funded over a 5-year period by an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Science and Innovation Award, is a joint project between Imperial College London's Departments of Materials and Mechanical Engineering.

New ceramic tiles for next generation space vehicles could be developed at ImperialThe new centre aims to dramatically improve the strength and durability of structural ceramics, made of inorganic materials like oxides, carbides and nitrides, to meet industrial demand for materials that can withstand extreme environments.

Projects will include collaborations with aerospace organisations such as NASA to develop the next generation of reusable spacecraft, which require new materials for tiles that can withstand both the freezing conditions of space and the scorching heat of take-off and re-entry.

Another focus of the ICSCC will be on improving composite layers of ceramics for body and vehicle armour for troops and security personnel that can absorb and deflect explosive high impact shells.

Cleaner and greener energy alternatives will also be explored, with potential applications in power generation including pebble bed nuclear reactors. This new form of technology encases uranium dioxide in ceramic pebbles, which heat water to create steam and generate electricity. More durable pebbles will be needed to withstand the extreme temperatures of future reactor designs.

Welcoming the EPSRC award, Professor Bill Lee, Head of the Department of Materials and new Director of the Centre, said: "This is a fantastic opportunity not just for Imperial College but for the UK's structural ceramics community to make a big international impact. These materials underpin many key areas of the UK economy, from energy generation to healthcare, and I look forward to working with industry and academia on leading edge projects which will establish this facility as a world class leader."

The new funding will support the construction of state-of-the-art laboratory facilities at Imperial's South Kensington Campus. Part of the development process will include the design and construction of new instruments capable of measuring properties in ceramics, like strength and toughness. In particular, the ICSCC will be working with industrial manufacturers on new equipment able to withstand scorching temperatures without melting during experiments.

New academic positions will also be created jointly between Imperial's Departments of Materials and Mechanical Engineering. Academics will be appointed in ceramic property measurement in extreme conditions, high temperature ceramic processing and multiscale modelling of ceramic behaviour.

Each academic position will be supported by a research team made up of a postdoctoral researcher and two PhD students. The Centre will also employ a technical manager and full time technician plus three PhD students at other UK universities.

This is the fourth year that Science and Innovation Awards have been distributed by the EPSRC, in association with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW).

For further information contact:

Colin Smith
Press Officer
Imperial College London
Tel: +44 (0)207 594 6712
Out of hours duty press officer: +44 (0)7803 886 248

Note to editors:

About Ceramics

Ceramics can be defined as inorganic, non-metallic materials. They make up one of three large classes of solid materials, the others being metals and polymers. Traditional ceramics include dinnerware, pottery, tiles, and bricks. Structural ceramics have a wide range of applications which can also be used in engine parts and components in computers and electronics.

About the EPSRC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests around £740 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC: 

About Imperial College London

Rated as the world's fifth best university in the 2007 Times Higher Education Supplement University Rankings, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts over 12,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality.

Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

With 66 Fellows of the Royal Society among our current academic staff and distinguished past members of the College including 14 Nobel Laureates and two Fields Medallists, Imperial's contribution to society has been immense. Inventions and innovations include the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of our research for the benefit of all continues today with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to tackle climate change and mathematical modelling to predict and control the spread of infectious diseases.

The College's 100 years of living science will be celebrated throughout 2007 with a range of events to mark the Centenary of the signing of Imperial's founding charter on 8 July 1907.


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