The overwhelming majority of properties of materials and processes within them are determined by phenomena spanning a wide range of length and/or time scales. The mathematical and computational treatments of phenomena at one scale are generally quite different from those at another. A full theoretical understanding of these properties and processes requires an explicit treatment of phenomena at each of the relevant scales and the transfer of information between them. The central research theme of the CDT is the development of theoretical and computational techniques that enable the transfer of information between different scales to provide a more holistic understanding of materials.

It should be stressed that a CDT research project goes beyond the identification of the different scales involved in some property or process. The key aspect of the project is the development of new theory, models or computational techniques that explicitly provide novel mechanisms to transfer information between the treatments of the problem at different scales. Since the study of materials at particular length scales has traditionally resided in Physics/Chemistry, Materials and Engineering departments the bridging of treatments at different scales will normally require supervision from experts in different departments.

The materials that fall within the remit of the CDT are structural and functional non-biological materials. They include solids and liquids. But not all forms of condensed matter are materials. Materials form a sub-set of condensed matter: they have a current or intended use. 

The concept of use inspired science is relatively new and describes basic research seeking fundamental understanding that is motivated or inspired by considerations of practical use. For example, much of the current basic research now going on into energy materials would be classified as use inspired science. This kind of science bridges the gap between the traditional categories of basic and applied research.