Summary of Broad Objectives of the Network
Advances in materials, their production, processing and properties, underpin much of modern manufacturing industry and are contributing very significantly to the development of new products and industries, as well as in determining the ongoing profitability of traditional industries. Although research in materials science and engineering has been decidedly interdisciplinary for over 40 years, now more than ever the field raws broadly upon a diverse range of fundamental science disciplines, with its applications covering all facets of engineering. Indeed, some of the most exciting challenges for materials science straddling the discipline boundaries of physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology and engineering. However, materials researchers, particularly in Australia, largely attend conferences in their primary discipline areas or their specific fields of interest and do not often mix with materials scientists and engineers from diverse disciplines. As a results, there is too little interdisciplinary interaction and sharing of ideas. More importantly, early career researchers (ECRs) and research students in materials are often not exposed to the broad spectrum of knowledge, expertise and facilities that is becoming essential not only for cutting-edge materials research but for their future career prospects. Hence, to redress this shortcoming, the Australian Research Network for Advanced Materials (ARNAM) sets out to bring together scientists and engineers from diverse disciplines under the one banner to substantially enhance the impact and outcomes of materials research in four broad areas of existing strength in Australia.
The network's research profile is based around the production, processing, characterization, theory and properties of advanced materials, covering bulk, near-surface and thin films. The manufacturing industry and end-user focus of the research covers the following areas:
- 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
Although there are Australian strengths and opportunities in each of these areas, there has been little interaction between them, despite the fact that many of the materials studied and the research problems and challenges have been common. Hence, ARNAM aims to foster material research interactions not only to enrich the research in the four chosen areas but to open up entirely new cross-disciplinary opportunities under the heading of emerging materials technologies. The network's research focus and the industry sectors that this impacts on are illustrated schematically below in Figure 1 which indicates the primary research interest in bulk/near-surface aspects of materials, the four chosen areas of focus and the area of emerging materials technologies that will be enabled by the network.
In all research fields, there is a need to build research teams of an appropriate critical mass to provide a highly innovative environment to identify and address key research challenges. This is especially true in materials science and engineering where interdisciplinary issues often dictate that the 'team' should have a mix of talent and skills covering many disciplines and on a scale that opens up access to a broad range of appropriate facilities. Hence, ARNAM, through its multidisciplinary workshops and focus on materials issues at the boundaries of traditional disciplines, will encourage the building of non-traditional research teams and collaborations. It is envisaged that this approach could lead to future applications for Special Research Centres and Cooperative Research Centres in entirely new materials areas for Australia.
There are particular challenges for research training and early career development in any research areas that is multidisciplinary. In ARNAM, key challenges relate to broadening of the often narrow single-discipline focus of research students and ECRs to bring them into contact with alternative materials approaches and diverse applications. An important issue is often a lack of awareness of the materials expertise, opportunities and facilities that are available throughout the country and globally. Hence, for research students and ECRs, ARNAM will, through its web-site, communications channels and awareness programs, focus on substantially improving the awareness of and access to materials research expertise, facilities and interdisciplinary opportunities across the country and internationally.
Appropriate exploitation of materials research and development achievements by manufacturing industry and, more generally, close interaction between industry and the research community are clearly desirable. Whilst there are examples of such beneficial interactions in Australia in materials, there is considerable room for improvement. One of the issues here is that there is often no recognition, particularly by smaller manufacturing industries, that materials properties and the timely solution of materials problems can determine the competitive edge for their products. Other countries have recognized the crucial role that materials research plays in the future competitiveness of manufacturing industry by establishing research-industry networks and special programs to link industry to front line research capabilities. Recently, the Australian Materials Technology Network (AMTN) was established and seed funded through a major AusIndustry grant. AMTN is charted with addressing the lack of awareness by industry of the vast materials research and development capabilities, expertise and facilities available in Australia. The founding research partners in AMTN are all partners in ARNAM. Hence, one of the aims of ARNAM is to link with AMTN and other industry bodies in engaging the materials research community with industry both to assist them with materials problem solving and to maximize technology transfer and commercialization opportunities emanating from the country's innovative materials research.
Any national research network cannot operate in isolation from global activity. ARNAM partners and members collectively have more than 250 significant international research collaborations with more than 20 countries. In addition, members have very close links with international networks such as the International Union of Materials Research Societies (IUMRS) and emerging European 6th Framework network programs. hence, a key aim of ARNAM will be to build upon such existing international research links by using the breadth and depth of ARNAM's research programs and capabilities to enhance and expand the scope of international research collaborations and also to establish formal agreements with appropriate materials networks and bodies in other countries and regions.