Most of the problems facing the world, such as energy supply and health, will be solved only by breakthroughs in materials science: meet the European Materials Research Society.
The European materials research and engineering community is composed in a quite interdisciplinary way by expert from physics, chemistry, biology, medicine/pharmacy and engineering in general. Founded in 1983, the European Materials Research Society (E-MRS) is the first society all over Europe that currently has more than 4,000 members from industry, government, academia and research laboratories, who meet regularly to debate recent technological developments of functional materials.
We spoke to E-MRS president, Peter Wellmann, about the importance of material research in Europe.
To begin, can you give us an introduction into the current state of material research in Europe?
Over the years, Europe’s academia and industry have been very strong in promoting innovation that is significantly based on new development, as well as optimisation of materials. In basically all fields of applications, Europe has been among the global players (and in some cases, have been the leaders). In critical areas such as ICT, energy and biotechnology, a lot of emphasis has been put on the development of new materials and processes.
However, Europe is facing a gap between the highly developed application of materials, and the availability of raw materials. Therefore, sustainability (including recycling) plays an increasingly key role in Europe’s materials strategy. Through the significant contribution by the frame work programs of the European Commission, Europe is very strong in the development of energy materials, including semiconductors, ceramics, polymers and light weight metals. New materials for additive manufacturing, such as 3D-printing processes, are being developed. The latter may have a positive long-term impact on the European economy, because it may pull back production facilities from low-wage countries.
Can you tell us about transition metal dichalcogenides, and the current developments surrounding these?
Among the different types of innovative materials developments in Europe, transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs) belong to a new type of atomically thin semiconductor layers that offer extraordinary electro-optical as well as ferroelectric, ferromagnetic or superconducting properties.
The investigation of TMDCs is strongly initiated by the discovery of graphene in the early years of 2000. In the defined combination of TMDCs with graphene and other 2D-materials such as boron nitride, new low dimensional 2D materials stacks are designed that enable plenty of novel applications in electronic devices. In addition to this, the TMDCs may also be considered as catalysts, that form an interface between electronic devices based on semiconductors and electrochemical cells; as a result, they could become indispensable in many energy applications.
What is the work and role of the E-MRS?
The E-MRS differs from many single-discipline professional societies by encouraging scientists, engineers and research managers to exchange information on an interdisciplinary platform, and by recognising professional and technical excellence by promoting awards for achievements from student, young researcher to senior scientist level.
As an adhering body of the International Union of Materials Research Societies (IUMRS), the E-MRS enjoys and benefits from very close relationships with other materials research organisations elsewhere in Europe and around the world. Annually, E-MRS organises the Spring and Fall Meetings which are widely recognised as being of the highest international significance.
The E-MRS Spring Meeting is the greatest of its kind in Europe with around 2,500 to 3,000 attendees every year. Each symposium publishes its own proceedings that document the latest experimental and theoretical understanding of material growth and properties, the exploitation of new advanced processes, and the development of electronic devices that can benefit best from the outstanding physical properties of functional materials.
E-MRS is strongly supporting the next generation of young researchers. For this reason, each E-MRS meeting contains a number of events dedicated to attendees below the age of 40 years. As adhering body of IUMRS, E-MRS has organised in 2017 the ‘Forum for next generation researchers’ that took place at the Council of Europe – European Youth Centre (Strasbourg, France, 18 & 19 November 2017) in conjunction with the sixth ‘World Materials Summit’. Again in its role as adhering body of IUMRS, E-MRS will organise in 2020 the International Conference of Young Researchers on Advanced Materials (ICYRAM2020) (Warsaw, Poland , 16th – 18th September 2020).
Can you tell us about ID-NEON? What is the importance of this?
ID-NEON is the abbreviation for ‘1D Nanofibre Electro-Optic Networks’ and it stands exemplary for an action taken by E-MRS to further develop the field of materials science in Europe by strongly supporting the activities through dissemination of the project results and outreach.
ID-NEON is a FOUR year Horizon 2020 project (1st April 2016 to 31st March 2020) funded by the European Council that aims to create outstanding added value for the textile manufacturing industry. This is accomplished by developing fibre-based smart materials along with an integrated technology platform for the manufacturing in Europe of new products enabling applications in sensing, lighting, energy and electronics.
The great importance of this project is that it aims to strengthen the European industry sector of textiles by enabling innovation through interdisciplinary crosslinking which creates an added value of the production technology as well as of the new products.
When it comes to material research in Europe what are some of the biggest obstacles researchers come up against and how are these overcome? What role does E-MRS play in this?
Because materials stand at the initial stage of the production cycle, the necessity to support materials research and development tends to be less acknowledged by decision and policy makers. In particular, materials development time scales of 5 to 10 years, exceed typical product development cycles of only a few years.
To overcome this paradox, a long-term perspective in materials development is indispensable. Besides the mandatory optimisation of widely applied materials, the search for new materials and processes is inevitable in order retain, and in some case to reclaim the global top position of Europe in innovation.
In this context, it is the role of E-MRS to provide the European Council with valuable information on long term strategies in materials science and development. A recent summary is available in the open access publication of the outcome of the sixth World Materials Summit, that took place in the Council of Europe (Strasbourg – 20th & 21st November 2017) on ‘Materials Innovation for The Global Circular Economy And Sustainable Society’.
Where do you hope to see material research in five years’ time, and what role do you hope to see E-MRS play in this?
Within E-MRS, we have defined a number of key topical areas which we are going to pursue in the coming five years. It includes:
- Bio and nanomedical materials;
- Materials for sensing and embedded systems;
- Advanced battery materials and processing/energy storage materials (including green algae);
- Materials for quantum information;
- Materials and processes for additive manufacturing / 3D-printing; and
- Resources & sustainable material development: research, education and engagement.
E-MRS seeks to support the development of materials by the provision of high level
scientific conferences for researchers on all levels of their careers (i.e. young, mid-career and senior researchers).
In a cross-disciplinary and educational action we are focussing on ‘Artificial Intelligence (AI) in materials science research’. We envision that the terms Big Data, machine learning and AI are going to provide new concepts on how to carry out materials research in a novel way. In the coming 5 to 10 years, AI in materials science research will become a standard tool to optimise materials and processes, as well as to search for new materials. In this context, E-MRS has formed a joint educational task force with Materials Research Society (MRS) placed in the US. Through the organisation of common tutorial/workshop days at the E-MRS Spring Meeting 2020 and MRS Spring Meeting 2021, a knowledge base to apply AI in the daily work of materials research will be provided.
In the context of IUMRS, E-MRS offers a platform for networking in materials science on a global level (Americas, Asia, Africa, Australia/Oceania). As a result, forming an interface for connectivity, as it is targeted in the new strategic agenda of the European Council for 2019 to 2024. The international outreach by E-MRS is fostered by a common UNESCO chair on ‘Science and Engineering of Advanced Materials’: Energy, Environment, Heath, including Nanomaterials for Health and the related Ethical problems’ located at the University of Strasbourg. The activity includes:
- Diffusion of scientific and technical information in the field of advanced materials;
- Efforts related to materials to meet global challenges;
- Addressing new ethical problems related to the use of nanomaterials and AI; and
- Education of young researchers and engineers during conferences.
As the first and largest materials research society in Europe, E-MRS covers in an interdisciplinary way the broadest range of topical areas in the field of advanced functional materials. E-MRS also pursues a dialogue and collaboration with other European societies that usually focus more on certain different aspects of materials. Among them there are for example associations originating from industrially driven engineering of metal, polymer, ceramics and biomedical products.
It is mandatory to promote materials with a common voice in Europe in order to bring the full benefit to our European society. E-MRS is willing to support this common dialogue and, where appropriate, E-MRS offers to take leadership through a common platform such as the European Materials Forum (EMF).
Peter J Wellmann
Professor on Materials Science
University of Erlangen-Nuremberg