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Downloadable ABC Forum programme


A century, and more, of materials research at Cambridge

Prof. Lindsay Greer, Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy, University of Cambridge

On 5th October 1920, among other distinguished guests, two Nobel laureates gathered in the aroma of freshly polished benches.  Sir JJ Thomson and Sir Ernest Rutherford were in support as Robert Tabor, Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, opened the just-completed metallurgical laboratory, established as result of the Company’s benefaction.  That visionary moment, as the world tried to move on from the Great War and the ‘flu pandemic, was perhaps not so different from our own lockdown and emergence, recognising ever more keenly the importance of research.  The talk charts the amateurish (“waiting for the explosion to blow the College to atoms”), and then heroic, precursors to the Goldsmiths’ Laboratory, and the research highlights over the following century.  Over those years, and at every level, from undergraduate to Head of Department, Cambridge materials scientists and metallurgists have made a difference to our subject as we know it today.  Long may this continue!

Photo of Lindsay Greer

Lindsay Greer received his MA and PhD degrees from Cambridge, and holds Honorary Doctorates from AGH Cracow and from Sofia.  He was Assistant Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard University, and has held visiting positions at the CEA and INP Grenoble, Washington University (St Louis), and the Universities of Vienna and Turin.  He is a Foreign PI of the Advanced Institute for Materials Research, Tohoku Univ. (Sendai, Japan).  He was (2006‒2013) Head of the Dept. of Materials Science & Metallurgy, and (2016–2019) Head of the School of Physical Sciences at Cambridge.  

His research has ranged over electromigration, chalcogenides for phase-change data storage, fundamentals of crystal nucleation and growth, and grain refinement in alloy solidification. His current research on metallic glasses is supported by an ERC Advanced Grant.  He is a co-author (with JA Charles) of ‘Light Blue Materials’, a history of the Cambridge Materials Dept.

International cooperation in space — why wouldn’t you?

Dr Alice M. Bunn, International Director, UK Space Agency

Alice will begin by highlighting some surprising historical international partnerships in space, going on to describe how these have paved the way for broader international collaborations.  She will go on to detail how our space programmes have moved from mainly the field of research and exploration, and the domain of the privileged few, to the point where societies across the world rely on space for their day-to-day lives.  As a result, space is now recognised as a strategic capability for both civil and defence purposes, where Alice will highlight some of the global and recent European challenges to cooperation.

Alice will conclude by identifying some of the exciting future opportunities in space, including for the field of materials science.

Photo of Alice Bunn

Alice Bunn is the CEO appoint at the Institution for Mechanical Engineers.  Until July 2021, she is International Director at the UK Space Agency, responsible for increasing the UK’s global influence in science, security and trade through space.  She leads teams responsible for ensuring international competitiveness through developing world-class skills in the UK space sector; developing multilateral and bilateral international partnerships in space; and delivering the security and resilience of the UK’s infrastructure and space applications.  

Alice is head of the UK delegation to the European Space Agency; sits on the Board of Directors at the US Space Foundation; sits on the World Economic Forum Future Council on space technology; is a fellow and Council member of the Royal Aeronautical Society; and sits on the board of trustees at the charity SwimTayka.  She is married, with 4 children, 1 dog and 1 cat.

Alice also has a PhD in Metallurgy from Darwin College, Cambridge.

Adventures in product development:  Materials challenges in membranes

Dr Eilidh Bedford, CTO Pall Corporation, New York, NY

This talk is unashamedly industrially focused. I aim to describe how the principles learned in undergraduate materials science are core to product development across a broad range of industries, from cosmetics to inkjet to pharmaceuticals. I will especially use polymeric filters as an example, porous polymer membranes used to remove challenging impurities in life science and industrial applications. I will describe some of our pressing materials challenges, how we seek new technologies to solve these and what challenges we face to bring them to commercial application. Finally, I will digress to what many of us in materials science have been doing in the last year, responding to the urgency of the pandemic, bringing our membranes fast to critical applications in vaccine manufacture, ventilator filters and diagnostics. Through these examples I aim to show the challenges and rewards of materials science applied to product development.

Photo of Alice Bunn Eilidh Bedford is the Chief Technology Officer at Pall Life Sciences, a Materials Science company focused on solving tough customer challenges in filtration, separations and purification.  Eilidh obtained her PhD in Materials Science at Cambridge within the Polymer Group, a team that still maintains close ties and ideas-sharing.  She is fascinated by the application of materials science to industrial problems and has led product development teams in consumer products, pharmaceuticals and materials science Companies – ranging from multi-nationals to start ups.  She lives near Boston and especially enjoys materials science as applied to new bicycles, in order to make training for the annual “Pan Mass Challenge” a little easier.    

Caught in the act:  learning how crystals grow by watching the movies

Professor Frances M. Ross, Department of Materials Science & Engineering, MIT, Cambridge, MA

We can watch crystals grow in an electron microscope by adding atoms one at a time onto a clean surface. The movies tell us a lot about kinetics and thermodynamics but can also be entertaining, frustrating, or both at the same time. I will attempt to share the joy of this type of ‘in-situ’ microscopy as we aim to understand how atoms assemble into nanowires or nanocrystals and use the information to control the formation of more complicated nanostructures whose properties might make them useful for new types of electronic devices.

Photo of Frances M. Ross Frances M. Ross is Ellen Swallow Richards Professor in Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, USA.  She received her B.A. in Physics and Ph.D. in Materials Science from Cambridge University, UK, where she became captivated by electron microscopy.  She continued this interest during her postdoc at A.T.&T. Bell Laboratories, as a Staff Scientist at the National Center for Electron Microscopy, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and as a Research Staff Member at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center.  Her research is based around the development of in-situ electron microscopy techniques to help understand crystal growth, epitaxy, self-assembly and electrochemical andother liquid phase processes.