Professor Philip Withers – Keeping an Eye on Advanced Materials

Professor Philip Withers FRS, Regius Professor of Materials at The University of Manchester and Chief Scientist for the Henry Royce Institute, delivered the first ICAM webinar of 2018 on ‘keeping an eye on advanced materials’.

‘Stone Age’, ‘Iron Age’, ‘Bronze Age’ – these are epochal terms we all take for granted. Throughout history our horizons have largely been determined by the materials we have had to hand.

Growth in the materials industry in the mid-20th century was driven by drop-in substitution as new materials such as plastics came to the fore, resulting in the formation of important materials-based industries. But the focus has now shifted, from simple substitution, to the creation of custom materials having tailored functionality, such as magnetic materials for data storage. The most significant and transformative opportunities are now enabled by materials optimized into integrated solutions. This requires a more joined up innovation framework beyond the remit of materials commodity suppliers or even individual research teams.

In response we will have to rethink how we create new materials. Design, chemical processing, modelling and testing have all traditionally been conducted separately by different departments. Professor Withers will explain how the interdisciplinary design of the Royce, in collaboration with large and small companies and other important institutes such as the AMRC, offers an ideal environment to realise the value from advanced materials systems in the UK and beyond.

Royce is thus concerned with creating materials research supply chains and with making world-class characterisation, imaging and testing facilities available to industry and academics; both to help with the immediate ‘unknown, unknowns’ that arise as well as to be part of structured research and development programs. Further Royce is considering aspects such as big data, machine learning, industry 4.0 as a means to the accelerated fruition of new materials and gaining a better understanding of existing ones.

Professor Philip Withers FRS, FREng, FRAeS, FIMMM is interested in gaining a fundamental understanding of the performance of materials through his pioneering use of neutron, synchrotron X-ray and laboratory X-ray beams to provide new insights on behaviour, often in-operando under demanding conditions.

Professor Withers was the inaugural Director of the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials between 2012 and 2017. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IoM3, 2004), the Royal Academy of Engineering (2005), the Royal Aeronautical Society (2008) and the Royal Society (2016) and Academia Europaea (2017). He set up the Manchester X-ray Imaging Facility which has one of the most extensive sets of X-ray CT scanners which was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Medal in 2014.

He became the inaugural Regius Professor of Materials in 2017 and is currently Chief Scientist for the Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials. Besides being fascinated by understanding how materials behave he is a passionate communicator of science to the public.