Why develop new materials?
Material science studies the properties and behaviour of different and new materials. These new materials improve efficiency, solve problems and make life easier.
These benefits include improving our understanding of catalysts, extending the life of hip implants, understanding and making use of the proteins found in our natural world, improving the strength of aeroplane wings and facilitating the use of clean fuels.
Spin-offs from the research and development into new materials can have further far-off impacts that benefit society.
Innovative researchers push the boundaries of what is currently possible and delve deeper into this ever-changing and fascinating world, utilising cutting-edge facilities such as:
- the Cryogenics Lab at Edinburgh’s Astronomy Technology Centre
- accelerators like the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, Diamond Light Source in Harwell, and Versatile Electron Linear Accelerator (VELA) in Daresbury
- world-leading microscopes such as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) SuperSTEM, and supercomputer modelling such as Hartree Centre.
Here are a selection of interesting and interactive resources such as websites, films, animations, apps, publications and guides. These can be used in the classroom or as background information for yourself.
Inside Diamond: a shutdown at the Diamond Light Source lets us deep inside the giant synchrotron.
DNA and lasers: lasers have multiple uses when studying the processes of DNA.
How to make neutrons: a quick tour of the enormous ISIS facility, where beams of neutrons are used for scientific research.
We offer free printed resources, including:
- ‘A century of crystallography’
- ‘Lasers in our lives: 50 years of impact’
- ‘Neutron scattering: material research for modern life’.
Due to COVID-19 related restrictions you are not currently able to order free print versions of these resources using the publications print order form. However, this service will be available again soon.
The STEM Learning e-library for material science has a number of resources related to materials that can be used in schools.
Science and Engineering Experiments for Kids (SeeK) is managed by the Department of Materials Science, University of Cambridge. It aims to promote the excitement and fun of science and engineering to primary schoolchildren. Simple scientific concepts and principles are introduced using hands-on experiments based on National Curriculum Key Stage 2 Science and Technology.
The Mineral Products Association has a number of online resources available for schools relating to the quarrying industry. Resources for Key Stages 1 to 4 are available via a tour of a virtual quarry.
The School Science website contains a number of free resources that support the materials aspects of the various science curricula and others which support science in general. It is free to use.
Continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities
STEM Learning runs nationwide, including courses looking at new materials and nanotechnology.
Supporting the National Curriculum
Materials science is taught at varying ages throughout the UK. The stories coming out of material science research and development funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) link to the national curriculum in the following ways.
Stories include the development of ceramics, polymers and composites and materials that affect the transmission of light through absorption, diffuse scattering and specular reflection.
Certain materials are involved with the development of new technology, for example detectors that make use of light, transforming the energy leading to chemical and electrical effects. There are new photosensitive materials being developed for new types of cameras.
There are many useful applications for the polymers and smart materials, based on some very interesting properties, developed through STFC research and development. New smart materials including nanomaterials, fullerenes and shape memory materials have intriguing properties, which make them capable of some fascinating science.
The development of new materials has, for example, improved the prospects of developing a safe and reliable means of utilising greener alternative fuels where storage and use is an issue, particularly involving hydrogen and the development of more efficient hydrogen fuel cells.
Contacts and speakers for ‘our material world’
STFC’s ‘our material world’ theme is led by Phill Day, Public Engagement Programme Manager at Daresbury Laboratory.
University of St Andrews
University of Liverpool
The University of Manchester
Queen Mary’s University in London
STEM Ambassadors use their enthusiasm and commitment to encourage young people to enjoy science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. They open the doors to a world of opportunities and possibilities which come from pursuing STEM subjects and careers.
Last updated: 27 July 2023