Research by scientists leads to the discovery and creation of new materials. Engineers design the processes which produce these materials economically, and many of the products which are made from these materials. In designing new products, engineers constantly look for ways to improve performance. This might include lower weight, lower cost, higher strength, increased safety, lower impact on the environment, and other desirable aims. The desire for improved material characteristics leads to further scientific research that might lead to refinement of existing materials, or the development of new materials altogether. Thus the search for, and application of, new materials is a joint scientific and engineering endeavour. Materials research and development (R&D) draws on many scientific disciplines, including physics, chemistry and biology.
Materials R&D can be viewed from a number of levels – the level of the materials themselves (i.e., metals, plastics, fibres, nanomaterials); the level of industry sectors (i.e., chemicals, construction materials, forest products); or their wider applications (i.e., health, food, energy, construction, transport).
The ability to research, develop and design with new materials is important for both developed and developing countries to sustain and improve their prosperity and competitiveness. In Australia, materials R&D is regarded as very important and is encouraged and supported by the government, which provides significant funding of R&D for things like biosecurity or defence, as well as supporting general research that is likely to bring benefits to us all.
While commercial companies carry out most of the processing of materials and the production of goods using those materials, the government funds R&D activity with materials science and technology in different types of organisations. These include universities, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO – http://www.csiro.au/), and organisations such Forest and Wood Products Australia (http://www.fwpa.com.au/), the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (http://www.crdc.com.au/) and Australian Wool Innovation (http://www.wool.com/). These carry out research into materials that can then be used by commercial companies.
The Institute of Frontier Materials (IFM) is a research institute that is partly funded by the Australian Government but also operates in partnership with commercial organisations. Its role is to carry out research into materials and also to develop, with industry, processes and products that can be developed and sold by companies. This for instance IFM has been involved in developing processes to make carbon fibre wheels that are used by Porsche, or lightweight but strong seats, as well as a range of other inventions. The IFM works on innovation in materials science in the following areas: metals alloy design and processing, biomaterials, corrosion protection, electrochemistry and materials, modelling of materials and processes, nanotechnology, textiles, and composite materials.
Carbon Nexus is a part of the IFM at Deakin University, and one element of the wider composite materials R&D undertaken at Deakin University.
The Carbon Nexus facility includes advanced equipment for the production and testing of carbon fibre composite materials, and also a team of materials scientists and engineers who specialise in carbon fibre composites R&D.