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Make all Sure – 700 years of the Armourers & Brasiers at the cutting edge of Materials

Peter Bateman, Clerk of the Worshipful Company of Armourers & Brasiers

The Armourers & Brasiers began life in 1322 as the Guild of St George and is therefore celebrating its 700th anniversary.  It was one of the many trade guilds in the City of London and operated a monopoly in its core activity of armour-making. This involved responsibilities for quality and price control as well as the training of apprentices.  Like many other guilds, the Armourers & Brasiers enjoyed a golden period until the 17th century when economic and societal change, as well as the emergence of effective musketry in its own case, made their core business unsustainable.  Along with other Livery Companies, the Armourers & Brasiers drifted into the 19th century living off accumulated wealth. Concern eventually arose that such wealth was not being used for the benefit of wider British society.  This led to the Livery Companies refocusing their charitable activities, usually in the service of education in areas allied to their historic vocation.  In the case of the Armourers & Brasiers, this meant promotion of the study of metallurgy and, more recently, materials science. The main charitable remit of the Company is to help to make the UK the best place in the world to study, research, or practise materials science.  To this end, and as part of its 700th anniversary celebrations, it has endowed in perpetuity a Chair in Materials Science at Imperial College London.

Photo of Peter Bateman

Peter Bateman read Modern Languages (French and German) at St Peter’s College, Oxford.  He worked as an interpreter for the European Commission, then joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).  His roles included: First Secretary in the Political Section of the British Embassy, Tokyo; Head of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Section in the FCO, London; and Head of Commercial Section, Berlin, promoting trade and investment in the former German Democratic Republic.  He has served as British Ambassador to Bolivia, to Luxembourg and to Azerbaijan.  He joined the Armourers & Brasiers’ company as Clerk in 2014.

The materials science behind radiovoltaics — concepts and flavours

Prof. Tom B. Scott, RAEng Professor of Materials and Devices, University of Bristol. Co-Director (Science) of the South West Nuclear Hub

Photo of Tom Scott


Understanding failure:  Flying hotter and seeing more

Prof. Philippa A. S. Reed FIMMM, Professor of Structural Materials, University of Southampton

Aeroengines need to fly hotter to improve efficiency and reduce fuel consumption, pushing materials to their limits.  The complex load and temperature cycles in the turbine sections of the aeroengine mean we need to understand how defects initiate and grow, influenced by the high-temperature failure modes and oxidizing effects in the engine.  A turbine failure during flight can not only destroy an engine, but also threaten the safety of the whole aircraft.  It is a challenge to understand what is happening at the microscale controlling key initiation and growth processes.  The art of fractography, deducing failure processes from the fracture surface produced, provides insight into these mechanisms, but ideally we want to measure local stresses and strains as the crack evolves, and to assess the crack-tip process zone.  Using in-situ and ex-situ approaches, combining scanning and transmission electron microscopy, digital image correlation and X-ray CT techniques, we can see and understand more about which processes control the fatigue-damage evolution, and so decide how much hotter we can safely fly. 

Philippa graduated from Cambridge with a BA in Materials Science & Metallurgy and then a PhD on brittle failure in nuclear pressure-vessel steels.  Postdoctoral research at Cambridge was on fatigue failure of aerospace turbine-disc materials.  She was an SERC Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Oxford before joining the Department of Engineering Materials in Southampton as a lecturer.  She is now a Professor and Head of the Mechanical Engineering Dept. at Southampton.  Her research is on the micromechanisms of structural failure in engine materials, power-generation turbine materials, hybrid pressure vessels, pipes and welds.  She applies numerical modelling to failure problems, characterizing crack initiation and growth in a wide range of materials systems / architecture, focusing on effects of temperature and environment (e.g. oxidation and hydrogen embrittlement) and complex loading on failure processes.  These interests are reflected in her recent and ongoing research collaborations with EDF, Rolls Royce, TWI, and many other industry partners.

Porous nitrides:  The holey grail for optoelectronics?

Prof. Rachel A. Oliver FREng, Dept. of Materials Science & Metallurgy, Cambridge University

Porous semiconducting nitrides are effectively a new class of material, with properties distinct from the monolithic nitride layers from which devices from light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to high-electron-mobility transistors are increasingly made.  Porosity permits tailoring of a range of properties including refractive index, thermal and electrical conductivity, stiffness and piezoelectricity. A novel etching process allows easy fabrication of complex subsurface porous multilayers, while the material’s top surface, almost unaltered, remains suitable for further epitaxy.  Etching proceeds from the top through channels formed at crystal defects in the GaN.  The great flexibility to create novel device designs enables improvements in light-extraction efficiency in LEDs for solid-state lighting and new approaches to strain management in LEDs for microdisplays.  These discoveries underpin the spinout, Poro Technologies Ltd, which has announced a new technology allowing full-colour microdisplays to be created from a single wafer of nitride, a transformative approach in reducing manufacturing complexity.

Photo of Rachel Oliver Rachel Oliver received her MEng and DPhil from the University of Oxford.  She then moved to Cambridge as a Research Fellow at Peterhouse, and later won a Royal Society University Research Fellowship.  In 2011, she took up her permanent academic position at the University of Cambridge and she is currently Professor of Materials Science and Director of the Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride.  In 2021, she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and selected as an IEEE Photonics Society Distinguished Lecturer.  Rachel’s research focuses on understanding how the small-scale structure of nitride materials effects the performance and properties of devices. She uses expertise in microscopy and materials growth to develop new nanoscale nitride structures that can provide new functionality to the devices of the future. She is a spinout founder, and a passionate advocate for increased equality, diversity and inclusion in science and engineering.