Materials lab

Key facts

Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014)
2nd in the UK based on proportion of world leading and internationally excellent research

Imperial's Department of Materials is the oldest and largest of its kind in the UK.

Our courses cover the synthesis, processing, modelling and materials characterisation of a broad range of materials, with applications in such diverse fields as nuclear power, aerospace, biomedical, automotive, communications and electronics.

Our teaching is underpinned by research in six core themes:

  • Biomaterials and tissue engineering
  • Ceramics and glasses
  • Engineering and alloys
  • Functional materials
  • Nanotechnology and nanoscale characterisation
  • Theory and simulation of Materials

Our research is enriched by strong interdepartmental collaboration, in particular with Bioengineering, Physics, Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering, and access to a wide range of first-class facilities for processing and characterising materials.


We maintain a high level of investment and maintenance in our state-of-the-art facilities to ensure you are able to practise the most advanced techniques in the discipline.

Materials characterisation:

  • Electron Microscopy
  • High Pressure Photoelectron Spectroscopy (HiPPES)
  • Surface Analysis
  • Thermal Analysis
  • X-Ray Diffraction

Materials processing:

  • The Thin Film Technology Laboratory

Study opportunities

The Department offers a number of study options to help you take your knowledge to the next level.

If you are interested in Doctoral study, it’s important to gain support for your application from your potential supervisor before making a formal application to the College.

Courses and research

Master's courses

MSc course

Research programmes

Materials lab

Our highly respected academic staff come from over 40 countries, bringing global influence and connection to wider society through actively encouraging diversity.

Across all themes the research is carried out with strong support from, and involvement of, industrial organisations. This close collaboration with industry, alongside our first class facilities, ensures that the Department is at the forefront of materials research.

Core research themes

Biomaterials and tissue engineering

Key activities focused on biomaterials in the Department include:

  • the development of new scaffolds for regenerative medicine
  • biomaterials characterisation
  • stem cell therapy
  • cell-materials interface engineering
  • self-assembled biomimetic copolymers
  • and nanomaterials for biosensing applications

Tissue engineering has the potential to achieve this by combining materials design and engineering with cell therapy.

In order to probe the cell-material interface, we are pioneering new analytical and non-invasive techniques such as high resolution electron microscopy and live cell bio-Raman micro-spectroscopy.

We are developing new synthetic biocompatible polymeric materials with unprecedented function and probing their biological efficacy.

Ceramics and glasses

Research in this theme encompasses both structural and functional ceramics. Major topics include:

  • solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs)
  • sensors
  • nuclear fuels
  • hosts for toxic and nuclear wastes
  • ultra-high temperature composites
  • graphene
  • carbon nanotube-containing ceramics
  • bioglasses
  • ceramics for body and vehicle armour

The Centre for Advanced Structural Ceramics (CASC) is a major focus for ceramics research in the Department.

We have pioneered research on lowering the operating temperature and cost of SOFCs, on their mechanical reliability and on the mechanisms of electrode reactions.

Engineering alloys

The Department’s research on metals and alloys is aimed at the challenges of energy generation, transport and healthcare, and reduction of the environmental impact of metals processing and use.

A wide range of alloy systems are investigated including Ni- and Co- based superalloys, steels, Zr-, Ti-, Al- and Mg- alloys, and Pb-free solders. Major topics include:

  • solidification, casting and joining
  • thermomechanical processing
  • the role of microstructure on creep, fatigue, oxidation, stress corrosion and fracture
  • metals for nuclear reactor systems; the micromechanics of aerospace alloys
  • shear transformations
  • thermal barrier coatings
  • wear and oxidation
  • the use of metals in the body

Much of this research is underpinned by computational simulation and a strong focus is given to in situ studies using synchrotron and neutron diffraction, imaging, and spectroscopy.

Functional materials

Functional materials are generally characterised as those materials which possess particular native properties and functions of their own; for instance ferroelectricity, piezoelectricity and magnetism. Functional materials are found in all classes of materials: ceramics, metals, polymers and organic molecules.

Processing functional materials is of critical importance as processing can often be used to enhance particular functional properties.

Functional materials are can be used in electromagnetic applications from kHz to THz and at optical frequencies where the plasmonic properties of metals assume particular importance.

Functional materials are also of critical importance in materials for energy such as electro- and magnetocaloric materials, for energy storage and for solar harvesting functions.

Nanotechnology and nanoscale characterisation

Nanotechnology is concerned with the design and construction of materials and devices with molecular and atomic precision at dimensions ranging from nanometres to micrometres.

Its influence extends from fields as diverse as nano-electronics and bioengineering to molecular recognition and self-assembly of nanostructures and devices. Underpinning these exciting applications, nanoscience targets fundamental understanding of the scale-dependent properties of complex systems.

Theory and simulation of materials

Theory and simulation are playing an increasing role in science and engineering projects.

Research topics span length scales from organic molecules, through nanostructures, to entire turbine blades and embrace all classes of materials: ceramic, metallic, semiconducting, and organic, with a focus on the interfaces between them.

Computational methods employed include first-principles quantum-mechanical calculations, classical molecular dynamics, phase-field modelling and finite element analysis.