Yorkshire is leading the way in materials research

Julian White
Julian White
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Advanced materials are at the forefront of materials innovation. Designed from first principles to suit specific industrial needs, these novel materials have applications in aerospace, construction, medicine and more.

In Britain, businesses that produce and process materials generate an annual turnover of £170bn - which accounts for 15 per cent of GDP.

Our nation has the potential to become a world leader in the next generation of materials.

“The UK has a long established reputation for excellent materials science, as well as industrial strengths in advanced materials,” says the Government’s ‘Great Eight Technologies’ report.

The Government have invested £600m in the ‘Great Eight’ - including advanced materials.

Materials innovation has become a regional focus for Yorkshire. When the N8 Group of world-class universities - including York, Sheffield and Leeds - quizzed northern businesses about their interests in university-led research, advanced materials was identified as a top priority.

Within the North, the Yorkshire region in particular is proving to be a hotspot for materials manufacture and innovation.

Leeds has long been the largest materials manufacturer outside of London and today its Local Enterprise Partnership considers advanced materials to be an area of expertise.

The University of Leeds is an established centre for research in the field, with more than £65m of research investment in the last five years.

Meanwhile Sheffield is driving for a place on the materials world stage. By 2020 the city aims to be one of Europe’s top five high value manufacturing regions and by 2025, it aims to be one of the top ten in the world.

Across in York, academics are developing the materials of the future. Today manufacturers reply upon rare, expensive and difficult to source materials that may soon run out. To solve supply problems, the University of York - in partnership with several other UK institutions - will lead a £11.1bn project to investigate safer and cheaper alternatives.

The value of such academic research cannot be underestimated. Britain’s businesses critically need R&D to support the development and manufacture of novel materials. In Yorkshire, cutting-edge university research is helping regional businesses to succeed.

At the University of Leeds, scientists are exploring the many potential applications of advanced materials - from photonic systems to nanoparticles to high-frequency electronics. This research has stimulated the launch of five spinout companies in the last five years alone.

One such company, Advanced Technologies, is working to commercialise a range of electrical sensors that use novel materials designed at Leeds to convert physical forces - such as pressure - into electrical signals for analysis. Once commercialised the sensors will transform the ability of the nuclear, oil, gas and aerospace sectors to monitor industrial environments.

Further south, research at the University of Sheffield also has direct commercial applications.

Many of the researchers are working with companies from sectors such as orthopaedics, aerospace and automotive to harness the potential of 3D printing to create materials with novel characteristics.

Meanwhile other Sheffield scientists are pioneering advanced materials to help the body heal faster.

One example of this revolutionary research is the development of a biodegradable disk which speeds recovery from damage and disease when placed in a patient’s eye. The novel therapy reduces the cost of cornea treatment and has the potential to improve treatment outcomes.

Across at the University of York, Professor John Goodby was recently awarded the prestigious AkzoNobel UK Science Award in recognition of the industrial significance of his work.

Professor Goodby’s work in materials chemistry formed the basis of flat-screen TVs, computers and mobile phone displays – but his is not the only work of international importance.

Further research at York focuses on data storage, which is becoming increasingly important for businesses of all sizes.

Current magnetic storage devices have high energy demands but York researchers have developed a sandwich-style structure that stores data more efficiently than was previously possible.

As Yorkshire leads the way in materials innovation, our pioneering research may drive industry growth and competitive advantage.

Partnership with The YP

The Yorkshire Post has teamed up with the region’s top academic institutions to shine a light on Yorkshire’s strengths in emerging technologies.

Our monthly series will look at the areas identified in the Government’s ‘Great Eight’

strategy (although a ninth has since been added to the list).

They are authored by Julian White, chief executive of the White Rose University Consortium, who is drawing upon the world-leading expertise at the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York.

The consortium is seen as a key vehicle for promoting and exploiting the Great Eight.

The universities have been collaborating since 1997.