Research Focus Areas
Research strengths and opportunities are outlined below for each of the areas of focus within ARNAM:
Materials drivers for high tech IT, communications and sensor applications
Innovative structural and functional materials for diverse applications
Materials solutions for advanced manufacturing
Materials for a sustainable Australia
Materials drivers for high tech IT, communications and sensor applications.
The development and future of many industry sectors rely on advances in the growth, processing, characterization, patterning and fabrication of thin film structures on and within the near-surfaces of materials. Examples are the IT and communications industry sectors and the development of smart sensors that impact on almost all industry sectors.
Australia has a particularly strong materials research effort in these areas that is spread across the country and encompasses several Materials.com partners and members. For example, groups at ANU, UNSW, La Trobe and UWA have innovative semiconductor epitaxial growth programs (in silicon-based, III-V and II-VI materials) that have high international profiles and impact on diverse applications for solar cells, quantum computing, solid state lasers and detectors, optical-based sensors, optoelectronic and microelectronic devices. Similarly, there is considerable research infrastructure, front-line research programs and expertise in near-surface and thin film processing, including materials deposition by ions, plasmas and lasers, near-surface etching, thermal processing and ion implantation across research institutions covering all states.
In terms of thin film and near-surface characterization and property measurements, Australia is very strong, with extensive programs and facilities for structural (especially electron microscopy and sophisticated x-ray analysis), compositional, optical, electrical, mechanical and chemical analysis. Practitioners of this wide range of analytical facilities come from diverse disciplines, again geographically dispersed but they rarely interact as a group outside their expertise base. An advantage of Materials.com is that it will bring together such analysts and hence open up opportunities for collaboration and sharing of facilities. In the fabrication of devices, such as lasers, detectors, solar cells, discrete electronic components and a wide range of sensors, Australia has a surprisingly advanced capability but it is scattered across the country.
Materials.com will greatly assist is coordinating access to such capabilities and, through coordinated proposals, address areas where such infrastructure is deficient. This will enhance the country’s device research and its potential impact on commercial ventures with industry. In terms of new research opportunities, Materials.com will greatly assist the building of critical mass teams in key areas such as semiconductor and optoelectronic materials for communication and sensing applications and aspects of bio- and nano-technology in which materials and device processing issues are crucial. In this respect, Materials.com’s aim of coordinating and enhancing Australia’s device processing capabilities will be an important enabler. Finally, there are significant opportunities for new collaborations with researchers who have their focus in other areas of this network. For example, there are considerable synergies between the fabrication and manufacturing aspects of devices and sensors that could benefit from multiscale manufacturing approaches in iii) below. It would be very beneficial for these different communities with strong interests in different aspects of manufacturing to cooperate. Similarly, interaction between the bulk materials community in ii) with the near-surface and thin film researchers, where common materials problems are not often appreciated, could be rewarding and open up new collaborations.
Innovative structural and functional materials for diverse applications.
The materials on which Australian and world economies depend are overwhelmingly those which can be produced in bulk form to sustain mechanical loadings. New and improved materials which provide enhanced performance and other desirable characteristics (durability, light weight, low cost, environmental acceptability, etc.) lead to rapid, widespread benefit to modern society.The structure of Australian industry is such that it can benefit from research into the production, processing and properties of these materials:
- Manufacturing is still the second largest employment sector in the national economy.
- Australian industry has responded to cuts in protection by increasing its productivity to world class in several areas.
- This is reflected in the remarkable profitability of the structural and building (steel, aluminium, coated steel, ceramic and composite) materials producers.
- The dispersed infrastructure resulting from Australia’s size, together with its rich mineral resources, have led to disproportionately large materials producing industries.
- This industry structure has been a factor in the development of Australia’s research programs.
Materials science is concerned with the relationships between structure (at the atomic, meso and micro scales) and properties, and the influence of these on production and processing variables. Fundamental studies of the atomic and mesostructures of crystalline materials have been an area of Australian expertise since the days of Walter Boas. Subsequent landmark research on alloy and zirconia phase transformations has been followed by the present work of many network members. This includes research on microstructural and textural development during thermomechanical processing (Deakin, Wollongong, UNSW, Monash, Queensland, CSIRO, Bluescope Steel); micro and mesostructure control during solidification of steel (Bluescope, OneSteel, Wollongong, CRC-Welded Structures) and parallel work on light metals (CRC-CAST, Queensland, Monash, CSIRO).Fundamental studies of the micro-mechanics of materials (Sydney, UNSW, Monash) and their surfaces (UNSW, La Trobe, S.A.), of the mass transport within them (Newcastle, UNSW) and the crystallography of phase transformations (Queensland, Newcastle, Monash, UNSW, Wollongong) support this work.Network members are also studying a wide range of advanced materials for developing other functionalities. Examples include superconducting ceramics (Wollongong), semiconductors and devices (ANU, Sydney), photosensitive ceramics (UNSW, ANU, UTS), corrosion and oxidation-resistant surfaces (UNSW, Queensland, Monash, Wollongong, SA), etc. Studies of polymers (CRC-Polymers, Monash, UNSW, RMIT) are concerned with relating molecular architecture and properties. Work on composites focuses on interfacial behaviour and processing effects (WA, Monash, SA, Sydney, UNSW). A large effort is being made in the area of advanced coatings (DSTO, Wollongong, SA, Queensland, Monash, UNSW).All programs will benefit from the current national upgrading of characterisation infrastructure (MNRF-NANO, replacement reactor, synchrotron).Australia is unusual in retaining a strong research capability in metals production research, principally steelmaking and aluminium smelting (Bluescope, Comalco, UNSW, CSIRO, Queensland, Wollongong). Where appropriate, these programs will interact with the Network.
Materials solutions for advanced manufacturing.
Manufacturing is a key to all disciplines, without which nothing can be done in modern society. Thus manufacturing has always been a major wealth-creating sector in developed economies and will remain the cornerstone of long-term economic growth. The new revolution in the areas of ultra-precision technology, information technology, nanotechnology, micro-systems technology and bio-medical technology has produced vast new challenges and calls for rapid development across various disciplines and multiple scales from nanoscopic to macroscopic dimensions.Individual Australian teams have made significant impact on the manufacturing of single scale elements such as MEMS, advanced cochlear implants and high capacity and high transmission information systems. However, owing to their limited infrastructure and specialised expertise, integrated multi-scale manufacturing has been unattainable. The challenge now is to develop techniques for multi-scale devices such as nanotube-based micro/macro-tools. This initiative will greatly strengthen Australia’s ability in making and characterising multi-scale products through the integration of the complementary expertise and infrastructure across the major teams in Australia, bringing in resources from overseas, fostering innovation and nurturing the growth of young professionals.The proposed network contains the major Australian teams in manufacturing which possess a wide range of expertise, including:
- Manufacturing of advanced structures: biomedical devices, integrated circuits, biomedical implants, macromolecular surfaces for microelectronics and nano-products, automotive structures, ultra-precision lenses, high performance wafers, high density magnetic storage devices, optical fibres, fabrics, MEMS, machines and machine tools, etc.
- Manufacturing of advanced materials: nanomaterials, composites, semiconductors, textiles, ceramics, polymers, thin films, functionally gradient materials, nanotubes, etc.
- Manufacturing processes: casting, microfabrication, machining, laser-assisted manufacturing, forming, rapid prototyping, coating, rolling, surface engineering of nano-mechanical structures, etc.
- Manufacturing systems: intelligent manufacturing, reverse manufacturing, cellular manufacturing, e-manufacturing, etc.
- Manufacturing characterisation: multi-scale mechanics, tribology, vibration, control, microstructural manipulation, damage characterisation, etc.
All the teams have their unique strengths but their expertise and infrastructure are complementary, particularly in the regimes across the dimensional scales.The networking will bring the complementary expertise and infrastructure together to gain the upmost synergy, enable innovation and foster the birth of breakthrough science and technologies in multi-scale manufacturing. Some immediate areas are:
- Theories and processes for the manufacturing and characterisation of advanced materials and multi-scale systems
- Integration of nano, micro and macro-tribology, machining, assembly and packaging
- Theories of multi-scale mechanics in manufacturing
- Intelligent systems for multi-scale manufacturing processes
- Training and nurturing young professionals for advanced manufacturing community
- Incorporating sustainability metrics in new processes and products
Materials for a sustainable Australia
- Research in this focus area will address the National Research Priority of An Environmentally Sustainable Australia. New technologies are required to make significant advances in the priority goals of Transforming existing industries and Reducing and capturing emissions in transport and energy generation. These technologies will be based on new materials with complex solid-state architectures traversing various length scales and possessing novel properties. The materials will mostly have to be assembled from molecular scale building blocks (bottom up). This includes using molecules and macromolecules which are benign and are derived from biomass, and geological material. A key feature will be to ensure that sustainability metrics are factored into new materials, addressing the issues of minimising waste and energy usage, toxicology, and moving to renewable biomass feedstocks. This will enhance the likelihood of down stream applications.
- Australia has a good track record in developing novel materials for environmental and energy generation applications. These cover a wide range of applications including ceramics for radioactive waste immobilisation; geopolymers for building and construction; membranes and sorbents for waste treatment, materials for the hydrogen economy, fuel cells and advanced photovoltaics. If this capability can be harnessed and coordinated then it is possible that Australia can develop more environmentally sustainable processes across the whole value chain from resource development and exploitation to technology input to high value-added products.
- If advanced materials are going to be a key to future technologies, then it is going to be important to build networks in which new materials can be developed, understood, tested and applied. This will include economic, socio-economic and environmental issues, as well as life cycle analysis of new materials. These are important to identify at an early stage to optimise taking new materials to the market place.
- The application areas include passive energy control, molecular recognition and detection, low-energy clean chemical conversions, energy storage and transduction, fast ion transport adsorbents for recovery of precious elements from waste streams. Value will accrue by the selling of technologies or the development of products and new materials without potential of negative impact on human health and the environment.
- Networking will bring together those with synthesis, processing and characterisation capabilities to develop materials for specific applications and will be invaluable in making the leap from materials developed at the lab bench to actual products. Benign synthetic strategies are rapidly developing and it essential that this is incorporated into the network. The same is true of processing with rapid advances in process intensification.