Department of Materials News 2009


2009 December

Modelling composition variation in dendrites

New EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing using Liquid Metals

Patrick Grant and Keyna O’Reilly are partners in a new £4.5M EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Liquid Metal Engineering. The Centre is led by BCAST at Brunel University and also involves Birmingham University together with 15 industrial partners who will contribute a further £4.6M. The new EPSRC Centre will work with industrial partners to develop innovative technologies for liquid metal processing that will allow for increased reuse and recycling of metals. This will lead to substantial conservation of natural resources, and a reduction in energy consumption and CO2 emissions. The work at Oxford will be based at the University’s Begbroke Science Park, making use of the large scale processing facilities and microstructural characterisation capabilities. Oxford will study the nucleation of solid from liquid alloys in advanced solidification processes, and how to control the resulting microstructure to make manufacturing more tolerant to recycled source material.


2009 December

Micromechanical testing

£5M EPSRC Programme Grant to be led by Prof. Roberts

A team from the department led by Professor Steve Roberts, with collaborators in Liverpool and Salford Universities, CCFE Culham and the CEA, has been awarded a 5½ year programme grant by the EPSRC worth more than £5M. The focus of the project will be on alloys for high temperature applications in future fusion and advanced fission reactors. The development and evaluation of reduced-activation oxide-dispersion-strengthened (ODS) steels is widely regarded as key to the future feasibility of these power sources, and tungsten alloys are proposed for the most severe environments within fusion reactors. The project aims to generate new theoretical and experimental understanding of critical materials issues including;

  • Matrix embrittlement from radiation hardening and from the synergistic effects of radiation-induced defects combined with hydrogen and helium.
  • Grain boundary embrittlement resulting from radiation damage and radiation–enhanced grain boundary segregation.
  • The mechanisms by which nanoscale oxide particles in ODS alloys strengthen at high temperatures and act as centres for gettering hydrogen and helium.

The project will develop and use micromechanical testing, atom probe tomography, and TEM techniques, and establish a production facility for ODS alloys.

This project now has a website and is recruiting researchers -


2009 September

New Resolution Limit

Atomic structure imaging beyond conventional resolution limits in the transmission electron microscope

Scientists in the Materials Department at Oxford and at JEOL in Japan have succeeded in exceeding the conventional resolution limit in a transmission electron microscope. The work as reported in Phys. Rev. Lett (103, 126101 (2009)) demonstrates a resolution improvement from 100pm to 78pm at an electron energy of 200kV. The method used is closely related to the use of ¨synthetic apertures¨ for high resolution imaging in radio astronomy and radar. In electron microscopy this approach has the potential to break the 30pm barrier when applied to data recorded from the highest resolution instruments currently available and the method is generally applicable to all transmission electron microscopes. In recent years there has been significant international effort in improving electron optics through the development of aberration correctors. The work reported builds on these developments by using a complex dataset of images recorded with differing illumination tilts to ¨super resolve’ electron microscopy images using computational processing.

Image : S. Haigh, H. Sawada and A I Kirkland, Phys. Rev. Lett 103, 126101 (2009) - Copyright (2009) by the American Physical Society.

Charlotte Lynch receiving prize

Undergraduate Prize Awards

Charlotte Lynch (Trinity) was awarded the Morgan Advanced Ceramics annual prize best performance in 1st year practicals, presented by Mr Chris Hampson of Morgan Advanced Ceramics.

Ben Mansfield (St Anne's) and Georgina Campbell (Trinity) were awarded the Department of Materials prize for improvement in performance between Part I and Part II.

Pascal Bugnion (St Anne's) and Manuel Schnabel (Mansfield) were awarded the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining prize for outstanding performance in a Materials-related honour school.


2009 September

Sen Xu receiving prize

Two International Conference Prizes

Michael Muller was awarded a Poster Presentation prize at SemiconNano2009 in Tokushima, Japan for his paper on "Laser-pulsed Atom Probe Tomography - a novel tool for the ex-situ analysis of semiconductor nanostructures".

Sen Xu won a Best Poster Award at the 14th International Conference on Fusion Reactor Materials at Sapporo also in Japan for his poster "Heavy-ion Irradiation Damage in Fe-Cr alloys".


2009 August

Atoms in motion

Watching carbon atoms in motion

Improvements in electron microscopy have enabled scientists to see how materials made from carbon can rapidly change their structure atom by atom. An international team led by Dr Jamie Warner from the Department of Materials at the University of Oxford report in this week’s Nature Nanotechnology how they used new advanced electron microscopy to image carbon atoms in graphene, a material that is of particular interest because of its remarkable electronic properties. The team used a new state-of-the-art electron microscope (FEI Titan3) fitted with a special component that reduces spherical aberrations and produces images with sub-Angstrom resolution. The team were able to use a lower energy electron beam in an electron microscope and adjust the imaging conditions to enable fast frame acquisition (12 per second) at a magnification of 2 million times. This enabled them to monitor a variety of shape and structural changes occurring in graphene, which is the key to some of the material’s unusual properties. This opens new insights into the creation and modification graphene structures which may lead to improvements in their utilization in electronic devices.

This news article is also the subject of an Oxford University news blog.


2009 July

Dr Feliciano 

Feliciano Giustino awarded ERC Starting Grant

Dr Feliciano Giustino has been awarded a European Research Council Starting Grant for the project ALIGN: Ab-initio computational modelling of photovoltaic interfaces. In the words of Prof. F. Kafatos, President of the ERC, "the ERC Starting Grant funding scheme aims to fast-track the career development of the very best research talent from across the globe".

The awarded grant involves a million euros research funding and will run for five years. Feliciano is a University Lecturer in Materials Modelling and will use this grant to establish his own research group in the area of computational photovoltaics within the Department of Materials at the University of Oxford.


2009 June

Dr Nicole Grobert

Nicole Grobert awarded ERC Starting Grant

Dr Nicole Grobert, a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Faculty Member, has been awarded a European Research Council Starting Independent Researcher Grant. 'ERC Starting Grants aim to support up-and-coming research leaders working in pioneering frontier research in any field of science, engineering and scholarship.... The scheme targets promising researchers who have the proven potential of becoming independent research leaders.' ERC Starting Grants of up to 2 Million Euro are awarded for up to 5 years.

Nicole will use the award to expand her existing research team and for equipment to study the 'Dedicated growth of novel 1-dimensional materials for emerging nanotechnological applications'.

Example open well ©Oxfam

Oxfam trial Department of Materials device to chlorinate open wells

Oxfam are trialling cheap and simple devices to chlorinate water. The devices, designed and made in the Department of Materials, were an outcome of an undergraduate project whose aim was to improve the water quality of open wells in developing countries.

A part of the Oxford Materials undergraduate degree course is the “Team Design Project” for which third year undergraduates are grouped into teams of six with an academic supervisor. They are set a problem and after two weeks’ work submit a report identifying possible solutions. In this instance the team of Fei Fei, Richard Lin, Manuel Schnabel, John Aveson, Helena Curtis and Francis Herbert supervised by Peter Wilshaw were introduced to the problems of contaminated water in open wells in developing countries by Andy Bastable, Public Health Engineering Coordinator at Oxfam. The lack of efficient and cost-effective chlorinators poses a significant obstacle to eradicating the severe cholera outbreaks which recur in environments using unprocessed water supplies from small, open wells. Often, the challenges present in resource-limited settings leave aid organisations virtually helpless in the face of such epidemics. The team investigated a number of solutions which involved dispensing “chlorine” into a well at a constant rate so that the water is sterilised whilst still remaining potable. Engineers at Oxfam were particularly impressed with the simplest and cheapest design suggested and 10 prototypes based on this design were made. Oxfam is currently trying these prototypes under “field conditions” in Liberia and if successful the intention is to produce many more so that Oxfam can introduce them to problem wells around the world.


2009 May

Winning team with academic sponsor

Materials undergraduates win "nPower Challenge" prize

A team of four Oxford undergraduates, including two from the Department of Materials (Samuel Humphry-Baker and William Herbert) have won a £10,000 prize in this year's "nPower Challenge" competition, for a presentation on nuclear energy.

This year the challenge posed a new question to the undergraduates and their sponsoring academic (Professor George Smith from the Department of Materials) - "How should a power generation company respond to climate change?". The teams were given just 8 minutes to present their solutions to the CEO and executive board of RWE npower as well as a guest judge from the RWE AG board in the final heat held at Wembley Stadium on 16th March. Each of the winning team members received £1250 and the Department of Materials received £5000.


2009 April

whose cat?

Schrödinger's cat o'nine tails whips sensors into shape

Quantum entangled, or "Schrördinger cat", states states can be very delicate and easily perturbed by their external environment. This sensitivity can be harnessed in measurement technology to create a quantum sensor with a capability of outperforming conventional devices at a fundamental level. In a paper recently published in Science, Joe Fitzsimons, Andrew Briggs and John Morton of this department, and co-workers, compared the magnetic field sensitivity of a classical (unentangled) system with that of a 10-qubit entangled state, realised by nuclear spins in a highly symmetric molecule (comprising nine 1H nuclei around a central 31P). They observed a 9.4-fold quantum enhancement in the sensitivity to an applied field for the entangled system and showed that this spin-based approach can scale favorably compared to approaches where qubit loss is prevalent. This result demonstrates a method for magnetic field sensing technology, based on quantum entanglement.


2009 March

John talking to Evan Harris MP

John Morton awarded Physical Sciences Cavendish Medal by SET for BRITAIN 2009

Dr. John Morton (Royal Society URF, St. John's College) has been awarded the Cavendish Medal as winner of the Physical Sciences category at the SET for BRITAIN 2009 exhibition held on 9th March 2009 in the House of Commons, sponsored by Dr Douglas Naysmith MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, as part of National Science and Engineering Week.

Download the SET for BRITAIN 2009 winning poster (2Mb jpeg)

The overall aim of SET for BRITAIN 2009 is to encourage, support and promote Britain's early-stage and early-career research scientists, engineers and technologists who are the "engine-room" of continued progress in and development of UK research and R&D, and ultimately of UK plc. Many will be Britain's future scientific and technological leaders and others will clearly be leaders in other fields. Such researchers are a vital asset and investment for the UK.


2009 February

Brian Eyre

Brian L. Eyre elected to US National Academy of Engineering

Brian L. Eyre, a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Department of Materials, has been elected member of the US National Academy of Engineering for his understanding of neutron irradiation-induced damage in materials, and for developing technologies and policies for the U.K. nuclear industry. Election to the US National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer.


2009 January

Jenni Tilley Caroline Humphrey

IoM3 Prizes to Oxford Materials Students

Jenni Tilley has been awarded the 2009 R H Craven award of the Institute of Metals, Minerals and Mining for the best polymer graduate.

Caroline Humphrey has been awarded the 2009 A T Green award of the Institute of Metals, Minerals and Mining for the best ceramics graduate.


RAE 2008 result

In the UK Government’s most recent assessment of research excellence in UK universities, the 2008 RAE, Oxford Materials was one of the top-rated materials departments in the country. All eligible academic staff and 14 early career researchers (Royal Society URFs, RAEng Fellows and similar post-doctoral fellows) were submitted for assessment and 80% of our activity was judged to be in the highest categories of excellence (Grades 4* & 3*; respectively ‘world-leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’).


2008 December

David Cockayne

David Cockayne awarded Massey Medal

Professor David Cockayne has been awarded the prestigious Massey Medal and Prize for his outstanding contributions to the development and application of high precision transmission electron microscopy to the study of lattice defects and interfaces, and of electron diffraction techniques for the study of the structure of nanoscale volumes of amorphous materials. The award is biennial and is made jointly by the Institute of Physics and the Australian Institute of Physics.

Peter Northover

Peter Northover on Time Team Christmas Special

Dr Peter Northover can been seen contributing to the December Time Team Special program entitled "The Mystery of the Roman Treasure" in which he provides scientific opinion on the origin of The Sevso Treasure.


2008 October

hybrid quantum memory?

Memoirs of a silicon qubit: hybrid quantum memory breaks 1 second barrier

Researchers have stored a quantum state within a solid-state system and retrieved it again, demonstrating a technology key to enabling quantum computation. In this week’s Nature, John Morton, Richard Brown, Brendon Lovett, Arzhang Ardavan, and colleagues in the US show that a single nuclear spin can act as a memory element and store a quantum state for longer than a second.

The transfer of information between processing entities and memory is crucial, but problematic, for quantum computation. In classical systems the information transfer can include a copying step where errors can be spotted and corrected, but in quantum systems this is fundamentally precluded. The team have developed a technology that can get around the problem: the coherent storage and readout of information between electron-spin processing elements and memory elements based on a nuclear spin. The system utilizes phosphorus-31 spin donors in a silicon-28 crystal. The nuclear spin acts as a memory element that can faithfully store the full state of the electron spin for longer than its decoherence time; the state can then be transferred back to the electron spin with about 90% efficiency.

Also see websites

Dr Nicole Grobert

Oxford Materials scientist nominated Future Leader 2008

Dr Nicole Grobert, a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Faculty Member, has been invited as one of ten outstanding young scientists to participate at the 2008 Science and Technology in Society (STS) forum Future Leaders Programme.

The STS forum invited more than 30 leading research institutions from around the world to submit their nomination. "The selected scientists are 40 years of age or younger and cover a wide spectrum of applied scientific research. Every one of them is an outstanding, outspoken and visionary young scientist whose research plays an important role in societal development. The selection was based on the nominees' scientific achievements, their works' impact on global well-being, the candidates' leadership, and their profiles' overall suitability for the STS initiative."

Nicole was selected as one of two 2008 STS forum Future Leader representing Europe, with others based at leading institutions in Australia, Japan, Lesotho, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States of America.

Podcasts on Quantum Nanotechnology

Podcasts on Quantum Nanotechnology

Recently Oxford became one of the first UK universities to provide free audio and video lectures to the public via the 'iTunes' software. The material is reached through the 'iTunes U' section, and all the major American universities are already well represented. Oxford's initial offering includes over 150 hours of material representing all areas of academic research. Materials researcher Simon Benjamin has made a series of video podcasts on quantum nanotechnology, which discuss what kind of material one would need to use in order to realise the most exotic technology ever conceived of: a quantum computer. These podcasts featured in an ITN news story about the new Oxford initiate. Look for more content from the Materials Department in future weeks.

Users of the iTunes software (freely available from can see Simon's podcasts by clicking on the link below, and then clicking the 'video' tab.


2008 September

Jennifer Tilley

Best Materials Student 2008

Jennifer Tilley, a M.Eng student studying Materials Science at Trinty College, Oxford has been awarded the prestigious SET2008 Morgan Crucible Award for Best Student in Materials Science. Her award was based on her 4th year project entitled ‘Creation of Surfaces Suitable for Immobilising Bioactive Proteins: Characteristics Affecting Immobilisation’. Jenni undertook her project at the University of Sydney and was supervised by Marcela Bilek at Sydney. The judges were impressed by her breadth of knowledge which she could clearly demonstrate with enthusiasm. They were further impressed by her ability to look at an existing problem (how do biosensors work?) with a fresh approach leading directly to a new insight into possible mechanisms.
The award was presented at the Gala Dinner and Presentation Ceremony on the evening of Friday, 26th September at the Royal Lancaster, London.


2008 August

John Sykes Richard Todd

Recognition of distinction

Congratulations to John Sykes who has been awarded the title of Professor and Richard Todd who has been awarded the title of Reader for their outstanding contributions both to the University and to their colleges.


2008 May

Ancient Golden Cup with two faces

Golden Wonder

May 2008 - Materials department researcher Dr Peter Northover has helped to identify the origins of a stunning gold cup dating to the 3rd or 4th century BC.

See full article at Times Online or view local version PDF.

On 6th June the gold cup was sold for £50,000 more details...

RS and RAEng logos

Four prestigious personal fellowships in one week!

May 2008 - Contratulations to four young members of department on being awarded prestigious and highly competitive fellowships.

John Morton has been awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship.
John Murphy and Valeria Nicolosi have both been awarded Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowships. Jamie Warner has been awarded the University's Glasstone Research Fellowship.

More about Royal Society University Research Fellowships
More about Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowships

Jeol2200 Transmission Electron Microscope

EPSRC platform grant in Materials Characterisation

May 2008 - Professor Kirkland together with Professors Briggs, Cerezo, Cockayne, Grovenor and Smith and Drs Hutchison, Nellist and Watts have been awarded an EPSRC platform grant for Materials Characterisation at Oxford. This grant will support key post doctoral researchers across the entire range of departmental characterisation activities on a flexible basis to strengthen our strategic research efforts.


Older news....

Matthew Thomas

May 2008 - For excellence in polymer materials, the R H Craven Award was given to Matthew Thomas who is studying a MEng Materials Science at Oxford University. His fourth year research investigated active ingredient delivery in an agitated aqueous environment.

The IoM3 R.H. Craven Award is a national competition and the awards were presented in London.

newspaper clipart

May 2008 - The new section of the website is actively being revamped. There is currently a no record of news between May 2008 and May 2007 but we are working to back-date a few news articles to fill the gaps having recently stopped using the OxITEMS newsfeed system.

See older news...